Copa America 2015: Vargas brace sinks spirited Incas
ARTICLE FIRST FEATURED ON OUTSIDE OF THE BOOT
Relations between neighbouring countries Chile and Peru have been fraught with difficulties and tension since as far back as 1880, so a semi-final Clasico del Pacifico was always likely to be hotly disputed contest. And so it proved, with a contentious early red card and a couple of debatable decisions which eventually saw hosts Chile emerge victorious to book a place in Saturday’s final. Argentina await them in Santiago as La Roja look to finally end their 99-year Copa America drought.
RED CARD SCUPPERS EARLY PERU PRESSURE
Despite a partisan home crowd in the national stadium, it was Peru who started brightest. With the physical presence of Paolo Guerrero, a warrior by name and nature, spearheading the attack in a 4-2-3-1 with the pacey triumvirate of Cueva on the left, Carrillo on the right and Farfan through the middle the intention was clearly to take advantage of Chile’s lack of aerial presence and high line – more on that later – as well as creating numerical advantages against Chile’s deepest lying midfielder Marcelo Diaz, who acts as the metronome for much of Chile’s tempo. As in the photo below, Guerrero proved adept at winning and then holding up the ball for Peru’s attacking three to get in behind Chile’s midfield and prove options breaking into the box. A prime example of this was when, after 9 minutes, Guerrero won the ball back on the left and crossed for Farfan to head against the post. This primarily counter-attacking ploy worked well for the initial twenty minutes and looked to be a potent weapon in Ricardo Gareca’s armoury.
However, that momentum was well and truly scuppered by Carlos Zambrano’s red card after just twenty minutes. What at first seemed an innocuous clearance was called back by Ecuadorian referee Jose Argote who branished a straight red after deeming Zambrano to have deliberately followed through onto Charles Aranguiz’s back, leaving the midfielder crumpled on the floor. Given Gonzalo’s Jara antics against Uruguay, the immediate thought was that once again Chile had enjoyed home advantage but after viewing several replays Zambrano’s misdemeanour, though not worthy of a straight red, was certainly a second yellow and a foolish thing to do for a player already booked.
Conspiracists will point to Arturo Vidal’s slap on Zambrano several minutes early as perhaps worthy of a straight red itself but on balance there can’t be too many complaints regarding Zambrano’s early bath.
More importantly it forced Ricardo Gareca into an early shuffle of his cards. Somewhat surprisingly it was Christian Cueva, for many the revelation of the tournament, who was sacrificed for burly centre back Christian Ramos as Peru switched to more of a compact 4-4-1. With Guerrero manfully ploughing a lone furrow, los Incas would rely on their counter-attack more than ever for the rest of the game.
CHILE’S NUMERICAL ADVANTAGE & GOOD FORTUNE
Now a man up, Chile, ever committed to their Bielsista high-tempo attacking football, began to take control of the game and flooded men forward to create numerous overloads. Committing plenty of men forward, as per the image below, the chances began to come and Valdivia narrowly curled one wide just before the half hour mark after Alexis Sanchez had cut in from the left.
As Peru began to get pegged further back and the pressure continued to mount, one could see all the facets of Chile’s attacking game in all its glory. Both full backs pushed up high and wide, creating almost 5 in midfield, with Diaz always willing to drop in between the centre backs if needed. With the likes of Vidal and Aranguiz spraying balls wide and quickly switching play, Chile made the pitch big and always had options on either flank, as could be seen in the build up to the opening goal.
Once again, Sanchez picked up the ball on the left, cut inside and curled in a tantalising ball which Charles Aranguiz, with one of his trademark late bursts into the box, cleverly stepped over, leaving Gallese rooted to the spot and only able to watch the ball bounce off the post. In the right place at the right time again, Eduardo Vargas was able to squirm the ball over the line for a vital lead going into half time.
More controversy was to follow, as replays showed that Vargas had strayed marginally offside adding further fuel to the idea that Chile were getting the rub of the green. To be fair to the officials, with Aranguiz’s run and bodies in the way, it was a difficult call to make under the circumstances and was evened out by a perfectly fine goal chalked off for offside in the second half Nevertheless, the goal combined with the red card will leave a somewhat bitter taste in the mouths of the Peruvian fans.
AERIAL THREAT & HIGH LINE STILL A PROBLEM FOR CHILE
Throughout the tournament there have been questions raised about the small stature of the Chilean highline and their susceptibility to pace in behind their high line and once again it proved to be their Achilles Heel. As mentioned before, Peru’s mixture of brawn and pace caused Chile problems early on and continued to be a threat whenever Peru counter-attacked. Peru’s best spell after the sending off came early in the second half when they strung together a decent spell of neat passing possession, eventually leading to the goal.
As the hour mark approached, Guerrero collected the ball, turned and slipped a perfectly weighed ball the onrushing Luis Advincula who had found space behind Eugenio Mena, an attacking replacement on at half time for Miiko Albornoz, to whip in a dangerous ball that Gary Medel could only divert past his own keeper with Andre Carrillo lurking behind. The goal was a beautifully worked combination of Peru exploiting two of Chile’s principal weaknesses and no less than they deserved.
Peru’s lead didn’t last long but they kept on with the tactic that had paid dividends thus far. Claudio Pizarro’s introduction for Andre Carrillo gave an increased aerial threat as Peru went more direct as the game progressed. However, the best they could muster were half chances, such as Pizarro’s late effort below, as the attacks became more infrequent as the physical strain of chasing the perpetual motion of Sampaoli’s Chile with a man less. Nevertheless, Peru once again highlighted a major weakness in Chile’s approach which they will have to wary of when facing Argentina in the final.
VALDIVIA & VARGAS DECISIVE AGAIN
Two of Chile’s star performers during the Copa once again played key roles in their victory against Peru. Vargas will get the plaudits for his brace, taking his tally up to 5 for the tournament, and in particular his second strike – a dipping 30-yard strike – was a fitting way to win any tie. Despite a fairly nomadic existence since leaving Universidad de Chile and a year played out of position at QPR, Vargas seems to save his best performances for the national team in a system that he clearly feels comfortable in and makes the most of his strengths. He was irresistible for La U in their sensational 2011 Copa Sudamericana win when Sampaoli was the manager and he has finally got back to those levels.
The mercurial Valdivia, along with Medel and Aranguiz, was another of the standouts and earning a 7.7 rating from Whoscored.com – the highest rating after Vargas’ 8.5. Playing in the false nine role, Valdiva, as he has done all tournament, once again had free reign to drift into wherever he can find space with Vargas and Sanchez pulling the defenders wide and the marauding runs of Vidal and Aranguiz occupying the midfield. He tended to crop up in the hole, towards the right as the following heatmap shows as he looked to link up with Vargas and Isla.
His first half shot sailed inches wide and served as a warning for the time and space he was able to find. A beautifully weighted, defence splitting pass for Alexis Sanchez (see below) should have killed the match but the Arsenal man, not enjoying his best game though still dangerous, flashed a shot over the bar. The whole game he was on the move, keeping the Peruvian central midfielders and defenders guessing and making the Chilean side tick. He may not have made any match winning contributions as he did against Uruguay but his presence in this side has been a big feature of Chile’s run to a first final since 1987.
Ultimately the red card scuppered almost any hope of Peru being able to maximise their chances of exploiting Chile’s well documented weaknesses at the back and there are still questions to be resolved for Jorge Sampaoli. Having said that, with a man advantage Chile had spells in the game where they were at their free flowing, interchangeable best and it’s hard to begrudge them the victory even though they got some slices of luck at key moments.
Chile now face their toughest task of the tournament and will hope that the exhaustion – both mentally and emotionally as well as physically – doesn’t leave them running on empty against probably the best all round squad on show and that man Leo Messi. Peru, on the other hand, will take plenty of positives from their run to the semi-final and the future looks bright with Ricardo Gareca at the helm and some interesting prospects breaking through.
ARTICLE FIRST FEATURED ON OUTSIDE OF THE BOOT