Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli expects a final-like test when his Copa America hosts take on holders Uruguay in Wednesday’s first quarterfinal in Santiago. Looking to win their first ever senior international title, Chile breezed through to the group stage of South America’s flagship competition, but now standing in their way of a first semifinal since 1999 is the country with more Copa America wins than any other.
After beating Ecuador and playing out an entertaining 3-3 draw with Mexico, Chile produced the most emphatic victory of the competition so far when defeating Bolivia 5-0 to finish top of Group A. That they scored a tournament-high 10 goals through the group stage is indicative of a Chile team, featuring talent like Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal, which has gained a reputation for being one of the most attack-minded in the world. The ultra-positive high-pressing style was put into place by Marcelo Bielsa when the current Marseille manager took charge in 2007, before his disciple and fellow Argentinean Sampaoli continued the direction in 2012. But in Uruguay, Sampaoli knows that Chile will have to get past a team famed for its tough defending and never-say-die attitude.
“I believe that the game for us is a final and it will be very complicated due to the opponents' characteristics,” he said at his pre-match press conference, according to the official tournament website. “We will play against a team which knows how to play this kind of game. These are distinct matches with a mental factor. We cannot stand off. In this match Chile has to be on the front foot.
“We know what game we have to play, we know what we have to do collectively and we know that the opponents intend to neutralize this characteristic. We played them recently in Santiago and saw that despite completely dominating the game we ended up losing.”
Uruguay did indeed beat Chile last November, but the path through to the last eight for the 15-times champions was far less emphatic than their upcoming opponents. Missing the talents of the still-suspended Luis Suárez in attack, Uruguay have grinded their way through. Their two goals in three group games, to earn a 1-1 draw with Paraguay and 1-0 win over Jamaica, proved enough to sneak through in third place, despite a 1-0 loss to Argentina. Still, veteran coach Óscar Wáshington Tabárez believes his players will give everything to the cause in a match that he also had no hesitation it stating had all the ingredients of a final.
“The match is special for the players I manage,” he said on Tuesday. “It's a final, my players say, and in these matches they've trained with the right attitude.”
“When these type of matches come up, every one of us chooses to play with the 10 team-mates we have by our side. I know my team-mates, who I have on my side, are going to leave it all on the field like I am.”
The importance of the fixture will only be enhanced, too, by the fact that the winner will be strong favorites in a semifinal against either Peru or Bolivia.
Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. EDT
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