Neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail, nor lightning nor Colombia was going to keep Chile out of the Copa America 2016 final.
Chile defeated Colombia 2-0 on Wednesday night at Soldier Field in Chicago in the semifinals of the Copa America “Centenario.” The score-line was straight-forward. Chile’s road to victory was anything but. A two-and-a-half hour weather delay split the game in half and shrouded the entire occasion in surreality and the elements.
Charles Aranguiz and Jose Fuenzalida scored in the seventh, and 11th minutes, respectively, giving Chile an earlier two-goal lead than any other in the history of Copa America’s semifinal round. The goals vindicated Chile’s plan to blow away Colombia and take giant strides toward the final as quickly as possible.
Chile, the defending Copa America champion, is thankful its approach was so devastating, because Colombia began demonstrating the class and determination, which carried it to the penultimate round of the competition after around 20 minutes.
Claudio Bravo, Chile’s all-time leader in appearances and a world-class goalkeeper for club, FC Barcelona, and country, proved his intent to reach the final by denying three promising Colombia scoring chances before halftime. After the interval, Bravo was as assured and accomplished as in previous successes in the last three years.
Chicago-area meteorologists warned of incliment weather, but their fears understated what was heading toward America’s third largest city. Rain, hail and lightning forced players and officials into their dressing rooms and 61,500 fans scurrying for cover in the concourse. There they would remain for what seemed like an eternity.
The sharpness and focused aggression that characterized the opening period gave way to unbridled chaos in the second half. Players haphazardly slid about the rain-soaked field, and the decisions of referee Joel Aguilar followed suit. Aguilar declined three viable penalty appeals and sent off Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez in a cringe-worthy decision early in the second half. Sanchez’s second yellow was just one of nine Aguilar doled out on an evening he won’t remember as the peak of his career as an official.
Regardless, Chile weathered the conditions and Colombia’s surge of soccer and rage to earn a rematch against Argentina, which takes place Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Colombia will face the United States, a team it defeated 2-0 in the tournament opener, Saturday in the third place game.
Here are some other keys to Chile’s win over Colombia.
Start fast, share the wealth
Chile’s unified attack and defense overran Colombia before it had a chance to settle into the game. As was the case in Chile’s previous wins, lightning-quick forward raids and unbearably intense defensive pressure mixed with devastating effect.
Fuenzalida, Chile’s right-back, joined the attack at will, helping create the first goal and finishing the second himself. Aranguiz claimed man-of-the-match honors, but Fuenzalida deserves a share of the prize. He embodied Chile’s winning mentality, while stars like Alexis Sanchez and Aranguiz shared the limelight (and defensive responsibility). Chile’s success truly was a team effort, and it achieved it without the help of its top midfielder, the suspended Arturo Vidal.
Colombia gone wild
Los Cafeteros were lethal on the counter-attack in prior Copa America 2016 games but fired blanks against Chile. Bravo is partly to blame, but Colombia’s wayward shooting levied a cost when Colombia most required benefit.
The decision to send off Sanchez was a bad one, but Colombia easily could have finished the game with nine or fewer players. Colombia’s players attacked Chile’s with increasingly furious tackles, as the game wound down. Perhaps only the clock stopped the contest from descending into an ugly brawl.
Thumbnail photo via Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports Images