Kazan: Chile’s golden generation is now in a third major final in as many years after a penalty shoot-out win against European champions Portugal. After clinching the 2015 and 2016 Copa America titles Chile seek a Confederations Cup triumph in Sunday’s final in St Petersburg, and should be a favourite for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia. In Kazan late on Wednesday, it was captain and keeper Claudio Bravo who again proved to be the man of the hour, saving three successive penalties in the 3-0 shoot-out victory.
Chile can now thank Bravo a third time in crucial matches after the Manchester City keeper made shoot-put penalty saves in each of the Cope America finals against Argentina.
The 34-year-old keeper has not always have an easy time in his first season in the Premier League after moving to City from Barcelona in August last year. In Russia he was injured for the first two games of the tournament.
But he did his homework against Portugal to deny Ricardo Quaresma, Joao Moutinho and Nani, saying it was not luck but the result of studying his opponents beforehand.
“At the end we were quite tired but we were still passionate and played with our heads as well as our hearts,” he said.
Chile in fact showed no great signs of fatigue despite having a day less to prepare than Portugal. They enjoyed more of the ball in an intelligent display in which they largely controlled the pace of the game and finished the stronger of the sides.
Sanchez twice went close, and Vidal and Martin Rodriquez hit the woodwork in extra-time with Portugal grateful to be finishing goalless.
Such was Chile’s level of play that coach Juan Antonio Pizzi did not make his first substitution until sending Rodriquez on for Eduardo Vargas with four minutes of normal time remaining.
“No player made any mistakes, everybody was playing (at the end) as they were at the beginning,” Pizzi said.
“It was difficult even to make substitutions because I thought that changing something might undo all their good work.”
After Vidal rammed in the first penalty, Bravo dived to his right to save from Quaresma. Midfielder Aranguiz converted his spot kick before Bravo saved again to his right to stop Moutinho, and after Sanchez again made sure for Chile, Bravo dived to his left to stop Nani’s effort.
Tiredness certainly was not a factor: The three Chile scorers had been on the pitch from the start, while Quaresma and Nani were late substitutes in regular time and Moutinho had come on in the extra period. “Claudio was amazing in the shoot-out, the players who scored were amazing and I think we deserve to be in the final,” Pizzi said.
Now world champions Germany or Mexico stand in the way of a third title after the Copa America double, and a second title with Chile for Argentinia-born former Spain international Pizzi, who succeeded Jorge Sampaoli in January 2016.
Although Chile still have some work to do in the South American qualifiers, they should be back in Russia next year and contending for the World Cup.
“We have to keep pushing ourselves to the limit,” Pizzi said. “We can’t let our levels of intensity, focus or effort drop, not even by a little bit, because we can beat anyone when we’re firing on all cylinders.”
Portugal are left with having to play in Sunday’s match for third place in Moscow. Coach Fernando Santos may now want to rest world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, who was denied a penalty opportunity by Bravo’s three saves.
Ronaldo along with Quaresma, Moutinho, Nani and Renato Sanches had scored from the spot in Portugal’s quarterfinal shoot-out victory over Poland at Euro 2016. Kazan’s luckless trio were heroes then, Santos said. “They deserve praise for stepping up, and I must also take responsibility because I asked them to take one,” he said. — dpa