Arturo Vidal and Matías Vuoso fired a brace apiece as Chile and Mexico shared the spoils in a thrilling Copa America Group A match in Santiago. In a breathless, back-and-forth encounter at the Estadio Nacional, Mexico cast off the insipidness of their opening goalless draw against Bolivia to give as good as they got against the hosts and one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Miguel Herrera’s squad, missing several players ahead of next month’s gold Cup twice took the lead in the opening half first through first Vuoso and then Raúl Jiménez. But Chile repeatedly found an answer as a Mexico defense missing the experience of Rafael Márquez came unstuck. Having got the initial equalizer, the superb Arturo Vidal crossed onto the head of Eduardo Vargas to make it 2-2 before at the start of the second half he converted from the penalty spot after himself being brought down. Having had a day’s less rest and with Chile now in the ascendency, Mexico might have been expected to fade away, but instead they stunned the home crowd as Vuoso nipped in to make it 3-3 with just over 20 minutes remaining. And that proved enough for what could prove a vital point, as Chile failed to convert late chances and were denied by an erroneous offside flag.
After a stunning 3-2 win for underdogs Bolivia over Ecuador earlier in the day in the same group, the pressure was on both teams to deliver. In terms of entertainment, at least, they certainly did that. It had been a difficult buildup to the competition for Mexico as Herrera has struggled to find the right chemistry from a squad missing the likes of Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Carlos Vela and Hector Moreno. But this was a performance that will have El Tri’s coach believing his pre-tournament confidence of reaching the final was not without justification. Still, much work lies ahead. Mexico will likely go into their final group match with Ecuador on Friday knowing that a win will be required to seal progress to the knockout phase.
Chile, meanwhile, are not yet in the quarterfinals, either, after encountering an unwelcome roadblock to their hopes of lifting a first ever major international title. Following as solid 2-0 win over Ecuador in their opening match, it was their defending, particularly from crosses that will concern coach Jorge Sampaoli. Still, a draw against Bolivia will be enough for Chile to move on and should even be sufficient to stay top of Group A.
They will surely hope to do so with less drama than they encountered on Monday. Mexico matched Chile’s famed high pressing style early on, leading to both teams having to go more direct than they would have liked and seemingly producing a stalemate. But with just over 20 minutes gone the match exploded into life from which it never dipped.
Mexico’s pressing paid off to go in front with Gerardo Flores winning the ball back high up, before the man who was again El Tri’s creative spark, Jesús “Tecatito” Corona, crossed to the back post. Jiménez hooked the ball back across and, after Miiko Albornoz tried and failed to cut it out with his hand, Vuoso made no mistake with a close-range finish. But within a minute the hosts were level. From a corner from the right, Vidal rose forcefully and powered a superb header down into the corner of the net from the penalty spot.
Yet whatever Vidal could do, Jiménez produced even better. The Atlético Madrid striker, in the starting lineup after missing the opening game, was able to get back and, despite going away from goal, get enough direction and power on a header to beat Claudio Bravo from 12 yards. Mexico had just minutes earlier gone close to going in front when Flores’ header was palmed onto the crossbar by Bravo, continuing to show Mexico’s attacking verve and Chile’s lack of height at the back.
But a positional change for Chile, with Vargas going through the middle and allowing Sánchez to drop deeper allowed Sampaoli’s men to gain the ascendency. Three minutes before the interval, they were level as a flowing attack ended with Vargas showing his eye for goal by directing Vidal’s cross home. And 10 minutes into the second half Chile went in front for the first time. Sánchez’s pass found yet another forward surge from Vidal, who was clumsily brought down by Flores. As he did in the opening game against Bolivia, the Juventus man picked himself off the ground and converted from the spot to put Chile ahead.
The home favorites appeared headed for the victory, especially when Jorge Valdivia struck a fine shot into the net. Instead the goal was ruled out courtesy of a wrongly raised offside flag against Vidal. The same frustration was to strike for Chile late on, too, when the flag was again raised in error to prevent Sánchez’s finish from standing. And by that point Mexico had drawn level to potentially ignite their Copa America hopes.