Chile can move one step closer to the dream of a first ever Copa America title when the hosts take on tournament surprise package Peru in Monday’s first semifinal in Santiago. Jorge Sampaoli’s team have so far coped impressively with the pressure to deliver on home soil, having topped Group A before ousting holders Uruguay in the last eight to reach their first semifinal since 1999.
But their progress has not come without its complications. Most notable was the arrest of star midfielder Arturo Vidal for crashing his Ferrari while under the influence of alcohol a day after a 3-3 group stage draw with Mexico. While Vidal was allowed by the Chilean federation to play on during the Copa America, South America’s governing body wasn’t so lenient toward Gonzalo Jara for his on-pitch indiscretion.
Jara’s unedifying poke and subsequent theatrics in response to Edinson Cavani’s retaliatory tap on the face paid off for the Chilean defender and his team in the quarterfinals. After Uruguay were reduced to 10 men Mauricio Isla scored the winner with nine minutes remaining to edge a tense encounter. But it has cost Chile the services of their center-back for the remainder of the tournament after he was handed a three-match suspension.
And the pressure will be particularly tense on Chile in Monday’s semifinal, when the blow of their dream being shattered would only be multiplied if it was to come at the hands of their neighbors. It perhaps explains why Sampaoli has been eager to downplay the expectation on his team heading into the match at the Estadio Nacional.
“With respect to being 'favorites', I don't agree," he said, according to the tournament’s official website. “We will face a team that is confident and which has a stronger attacking game than Uruguay. The opponents which we have to face are playing well and are doing well against strong teams.
“They have four key players [Christian Cueva, Jefferson Farfán, Paolo Guerrero and Claudio Pizarro] in the final third, similar to Ecuador, two feisty midfielders in [Josepmir] Ballón and [Carlos] Lobatón and quick wingers. If we keep the ball well we can control their strikers, who are very dangerous.”
Peru were unlucky semifinalists in Argentina four years ago and, despite having done little of note since, have again made their way through to the Copa America’s final four. After a last-gasp defeat to Brazil came a victory over Venezuela and a draw with Colombia before an emphatic quarterfinal dispatching of Bolivia. Flamengo striker Guerrero was the star of the show last Thursday when bagging a hat-trick in the 3-1 win. Two of those goals came when countering quickly off their opponent’s turnovers and it will surely be a strategy that Peru will look to employ against one of the most attack-minded teams in the world. And coach Ricardo Gareca, like Sampaoli, an Argentinean, is hopeful that Peru can capitalize on the expectancy weighing on their opponents.
“Chile have a lot of pressure -- a heavy burden to win due to being hosts -- and we will try to take advantage,” Gareca said in his press conference. “Chile is a very strong team, and playing against them means we must prepare well. We are at a point where we need to consider our plan and identify what’s best for the team, but we’ve always analyzed out opponents well.”
Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. EDT
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