Fresh from a thrilling 7-0 destruction of Mexico, a semifinal meeting with Colombia at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Wednesday is now all that stands between Chile and a repeat of the 2015 Copa America final on Sunday. Argentina, defeated by Chile on a penalty shootout in Santiago a year ago, now lies in wait at the climax of the Copa America Centenario after ousting host the United States in the first of the semifinals. And, following its breathtaking performance in the quarterfinals, Chile is now the favorite to join them.
A repeat of last year’s duel has looked an unlikely prospect for much of the competition. Chile, which has had to recover from the loss of the man who guided the country to its first-ever senior international title 12 months ago, Jorge Sampaoli, made a slow start to this specially arranged edition of South America’s championship.
Indeed, it was Argentina that put Chile to the sword in its opening game, with a 2-1 win that was far more comprehensive than the score suggests. Performances only slowly improved, thereafter. It took a controversial penalty deep into injury time to beat Bolivia, before the attack sparkled, but the defense and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo still left plenty to be desired in a 4-2 win over Panama.
Against Mexico, though, everything came together in an explosive display that offered a reminder of why Chile is ranked No. 5 in the world and has long been many neutrals’ second-favorite team.
“Right now, we are charging our batteries,” Chile midfielder Charles Aránguiz said ahead of the semifinal. “[Colombia is] a great team and they have great players, and a very organized plan. But we have been improving game after game and think that we can arrive in good form. It will be complicated, but now we have to recharge so we can be at 100 percent for the game.”
Among all the positives from Chile’s quarterfinal win, there were also two blows delivered to its hopes against Colombia. As well as Marcelo Díaz suffering a muscle problem that continues to put his participation in jeopardy, fellow midfielder Arturo Vidal will miss out through suspension after picking up his second booking of the competition.
“Everyone knows he is a great player,” Aránguiz said of Bayern Munich’s Vidal. “But we have a good lineup; players that don’t start are looking for their opportunity. We will wait until Wednesday to see what coach decides, but we are a group that is very well prepared.”
Colombia goes into the match after a far less emphatic win in the quarterfinals. Having started the Copa America with impressive wins over the United States and Paraguay, a much-changed lineup was beaten by Costa Rica in the final round of group games. And, even with the stars brought back in, it was again a struggle against Peru in the last eight. The likes of James Rodríguez, Carlos Bacca and Juan Cuadrado failed to shine in a goalless match after 90 minutes against a tough Peru side, and in the end it took two big saves from David Ospina and a penalty shootout to reach the last four.
Colombia can, though, count on the fact that it has not lost to Colombia in three meetings under the charge of coach José Pékerman, even securing a win in Santiago in 2012. Pékerman also won his one match against Colombia when in charge of Argentina, yet he is far from underestimating the challenge his team will face on Wednesday.
“We’re playing against the champ of the Copa America. We’re playing against one of the best generations of the Chilean football team that have years of experience of hard work of individual quality and great teamwork,” he said in a press conference ahead of the match. “It’s a team that performs well in every event. World Cups, Copa America —they are always a contender.”
Colombia has its own injury concerns, with Milan striker Bacca and left-back Farid Díaz facing late fitness tests.
Betting Odds (provided by Oddschecker)
Chile win: 6/4
Colombia win: 2/1
Kickoff Time: 8 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1, Univision