PORTO ALEGRE – Was it arrogance? Was it underestimation? Whatever it was, Peru, not Chile, will play Brazil in the Copa América final, after La Roja were trounced by their disciplined northern neighbors.
It seemed like nothing could go wrong after the thriller against Colombia (win after penalties) last Friday. With Gabriel Arias who seemed to get his confidence as goalkeeper back, with a stable defense, a flourishing midfield with the likes of Erick Pulgár and Charles Aranguíz, and with a shining Alexis Sánchez punishing the Colombian defense, Chile was headed to the final against Brazil this Sunday.
Because in the other quarterfinal, Peru surprised everyone by beating record winner Uruguay after penalties. And Peru, how good could they be? Their victory over Uruguay was an incident, right? For La Roja, this semifinal would be a piece of cake with a cherry on top.
Everyone who saw the first half of the game yesterday must have thought that the final on Sunday was already on the mind of the Chileans. The strength of this team has often been its mentality, but the focus was nowhere to be seen when the first whistle blew.
The Peruvian “Nothing-To-Lose”-Mindset
Peru started furiously, with a “nothing-to-lose”-mindset. Every second ball, every tackle and duel, seemed to be for the Peruvians. Key players such as Arturo Vidal and Charles Aranguíz were invisible on the midfield. Los Incas seemed to be in better shape, a painful conclusion against an aging Chile.
The first goal in the match came in the 21st minute and was the accumulation of an ongoing wave of Peruvian pressure. A well-organized attack resulted in a goal from Edison Flores, showing the debilities of the Chilean squad. Where Peru played with discipline, attacking and defending with all players, the Chileans left too much space open when defending and failed to help each other when in attack. Nor was there any creativity or drive on the midfield; the three Chilean attackers were nowhere to be seen.
The weak first 20 minutes, concluded by the Peruvian goal, should have been a wake-up call for the Chileans. However, trusting that an equalizer would fall at some point, the team continued with uninspired lateral passes, taking zero risk. Most of the potential danger came from left- and right- backs Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla, but nothing could really trouble the confident Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.
The second goal in the 38th minute was as much a product of Peruvian perseverance as Chilean failure. A deep ball from Peru brought the Chilean defense out of position and had Arias coming out of goal like a wild horse. Andre Carillo got there first, brought the ball in front of the Chilean goal where Yoshimar Yotun could finish, facing four Chileans who seemed rooted to the pitch. The first half whistle had La Roja fleeing to the dressing room.
A Goalless Comeback
Chilean trainer Reinaldo Rueda had to do something and brought in Angelo Sagal for Juan Fuenzalida. Peru expected a goal-hungry Chile and the pressure from the Chilean side was high from the start. However, the squad seemed to get punished for their weak performance in the first half.
Whatever they tried, how many chances they created, it was just not enough to pass Gallese. Eduardo Vargas did so in the 51st minute with a header but hit the post. Shots from Aranguíz and Vidal went wide, while Gallese was prepared for shots from Jean Beausejour and Alexis Sánchez.
The clock ticked and the despair grew on the Chilean side. It seemed just impossible to score tonight. Peru defended with discipline, without dirty tricks or delaying tactics. Vargas, invisible in the first half, worked hard and got one-on-one with the Peruvian goalkeeper, but, again, Gallese stood his ground and defended his goal.
Just when Rueda brought in Nicolás Castillo, an attacker, for central defender Guillermo Maripan, Peru scored their third goal. Jose Paolo Guerrero got all the space a striker could ask for when receiving the ball in the Chilean penalty box. He dribbled past Arias and decided Chile’s destiny.
In the last minutes of extra time, Chile got a chance to make the score a little less painful when they got a penalty after a charge from Luis Abram. Vargas tried a Panenka, which got saved by Gallese. The cherry on top of the Peruvian cake was more bitter than a cup of coca tea.
What remains is the consolation final against eternal rival Argentina on Saturday for third place. A victory over Argentina could make this defeat a bit easier to take for Chile. Losing to this Peruvian squad could happen to any team – look at Uruguay. But the way Chile lost yesterday, will remain an open wound, at least until next year’s Copa América.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.