Freshly crowned South American champions Chile made a winning start to their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-0 victory over Brazil in Santiago. It was the man who top-scored during this summer’s Copa America, Eduardo Vargas, who got the crucial opening goal, volleying in a Matías Fernández free-kick with 18 minutes remaining at the Estadio Nacional, where three months earlier Chile beat Argentina on penalties to claim their first ever international title. Making sure of victory in the final minute of the 90, Alexis Sánchez stabbed the ball over the line from close range.
In what promises to be the most competitive qualification campaign yet in South America, it could be a precious three points for a Chile side looking to reach a third consecutive World Cup for the first time in the country’s history. With Sánchez and Arturo Vidal overcoming fitness concerns to be declared fit, coach Jorge Sampaoli had the luxury of fielding 10 of the 11 players who started the historic Copa America final. But an impressive first half for Brazil, containing the hosts and causing problems down the flanks, compelled the Argentinean coach into a formation shift before halftime.
Moving to four at the back opened up the game considerably at both ends. While Chile were more threatening going forward and twice hit the post through Sánchez and then Mauricio Isla, they were also more vulnerable to Brazil breaking with purpose through Chile’s center. But ultimately Sampaoli was rewarded for his boldness, while his counterpart, Dunga, watched on.
Sampaoli was rewarded, too, for his decision to bring on Fernández for the ineffective Jorge Valdivia. From the substitute’s fine set-piece delivery Vargas again continued his trend of saving his best goal-scoring form for this national team. Brazil goalkeeper Jefferson, though, will be disappointed he could not keep the Hoffenheim forward’s volley at bay, having got a hand to it at his near post.
Chile’s devastating attacking speed then caught Brazil cold with a minute remaining. Sánchez found Vidal to the right, who squared it back for the Arsenal forward. While Joao Miranda blocked the initial effort, he was powerless to prevent Sánchez turning the ball over the line at the second attempt.
The result is another blow to Brazil coach Dunga. While he has win all 12 of his friendlies since taking over the Seleção for the second time last year, he has come out on the losing side in three of his five competitive outings. After a quarterfinal exit at the Copa America, he can ill afford that record not to improve when Brazil host Venezuela in their second qualifier on Tuesday night. Just as in Santiago, however, Dunga will have to achieve it without Neymar, whose cutting edge was sorely missed in this loss.
Chile, meanwhile, will surely head into their next match, at Peru, imbued with even greater belief. Having ended their long wait for international silverware in July, Thursday provided the end to yet another drought. The result gives La Roja their first victory against five-time world champions Brazil in 14 matches stretching back 15 years. Chile’s golden era shows little sign of fading any time soon.