FOXBORO, Mass. — Fate needed only a moment to turn Bolivia’s Copa America dreams to dust, and have the reverse affect those of Chile.
The teams appeared headed for a stalemate Friday at Gillette Stadium, but referee Jair Marrufo punished Luis Gutierrez’s hand-ball inside his own penalty area by awarding Chile a spot-kick deep into second-half stoppage time. Then, Arturo Vidal, one of Chilean soccer’s brightest lights, converted the unexpected opportunity into the game-winning goal amid controversy, bewilderment and pressure.
Chile all but confirmed Bolivia’s elimination from the tournament with a 2-1 victory. Chile also revived its own hopes of successfully defending its Copa America title, as they lay on life support with just minutes, or even seconds, remaining in the game. Chile now has three points in the standings heading into the final Group D game. If Argentina defeats Panama, and Chile achieves the same result against the Central Americans, Vidal and Co. will advance to the knockout rounds after playing nearly 180 minutes of indifferent soccer.
Chile-Bolivia, the first of three Copa America 2016 games Gillette Stadium will host, unfolded gradually before building a momentum of excitement that only a combination of Marrufo and the clock could halt.
Here’s how it happened.
Chile’s missing “oomph”
To say Chile dominated possession and territory would be an understatement. They out-passed Bolivia by a difference of 505 successful passes and had 75 percent possession.
But Chile never could pull away from Bolivia in terms of score or balance of play. This likely was down to the rigors of time and travel.
Chile has the oldest roster in the tournament with an average age of 29 years, 355 days. It lost 2-1 to Argentina on Tuesday in Santa Clara, Calif., and the cross-country journey on three days rest seemingly blunted Chile’s normally zesty attack.
Bolivia wouldn’t lay down
History wasn’t on Bolivia’s side coming into the game, but they showed an admirable level of determination from the first to the final whistle. Bolivia played to their strengths, tackling Chile forcefully and counter-attacking with speed and intent. On those rare occasions Chile unlocked Bolivia’s defense, the likes of goalkeeper Carlos Lampe and defender Edwardo Zenteno rescued their country’s cause.
Bolivia conceded just a minute into the second half, but an inspired free kick by substitute Jhasmani Campos leveled the terms within 15 minutes of the restart.
Bolivia had plenty of grit but lacked the quality and punch required to knock the Copa America 2015 champions out of this year’s tournament.
Vidal, 29, is Chile’s beating heart, driving the team with his quality, physique and passion. His first goal gave his Chile teammates the confidence to overcome their first-half frustrations. He carried Chile’s hopes on his shoulders as he stepped up to the penalty spot nearly nine minutes into added time, but his composed finish reflected his experience at the highest-level of the club and international game.
Vidal is one of a kind in today’s soccer world. Chile couldn’t be more thankful he belongs to them.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images