Chile 1 – 2 Venezuela
Suazo 69′ Vicarrondo 34′
Estadio del Bicentenario, July 18 – Quarter Final
Venezuela woke up in the semi-finals of the Copa America for the first time in their history this morning after a frantic second half in San Juan saw them conquer the fancied Chileans of Claudio Borghi.
Nobody expected what the second half had in store for both sides after what was a dour first half, where the only attack of note was a goal for Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, the domineering centre back who has been a star for Venezuela throughout the tournament, from a Juan Arango free kick. Aside from this barely anything of note, tactically or in terms of events in the game, happened.
Borghi faced the more difficult conundrum, in terms of starting XI, out of the two coaches, with the absence of Jean Beausejour and questions marks over the fitness of Jorge Valdivia. He elected to bring in Carlos Carmona into midfield and push Arturo Vidal to left wing back (one of several positions the Bayer Leverkusen star would occupy over the 90 minutes). He kept the attacking trident he had favoured in previous matches, aside from against Peru where he fielded a weakened eleven, of Luis Jimenez, Alexis Sanchez and Humberto Suazo, but none of them got into the game in the first half as Chile struggled to gain a platform to build from with Carmona and Gary Medel remaining stationed in front of the back three, whilst Vidal played a very defensive role, leaving only Mauricio Isla as the other attacking threat.
Venezuela, meanwhile, were sent out with the same XI they had favoured by Cesar Farias and played in their recognisable 4-2-2-2. The tactics employed by Venezuela weren’t particularly effective and the only threat they ever posed was from one of the myriad free kicks they won in the Chilean half.
Both sides struggled to get a foothold in the game and the first half was a very scrappy affair with neither side able to get behind the other and neither pressing the other particularly vigorously also. In fact, the only time Chile pressed – which was something they were synonymous with under Marcelo Bielsa at the 2010 World Cup – was when Vidal pushed high up the pitch on the 30th minute mark, and the rest of the Chilean midfield followed suit.
It was in the second half that the game came alive, with Chile 1 – 0 down, Claudio Borghi made a change at half time, bringing on Valdivia for Carmona – a peculiar decision, considering that Gary Medel was on a yellow card, and one that would come back later in the game – and Chile employed a very aggressive pressing game. Offensively, Chile gave free reign to Valdivia and Luis Jimenez behind the front two and began pushing men forward at every available opportunity. The change in style reaped dividends almost immediately, with a header cleared off the line and Humberto Suazo and Valdivia both hitting the bar in the first 15 minutes. It was after this period of pressure that their second change was made, with defender Gonzalo Jara replaced by forward Esteban Paredes, and Chile changing to a free form 3-2-2-3 with a dynamic back three of Contreras, Ponce and one of Medel or Vidal (who pushed on as much as possible when Chile had the ball), Jimenez and Valdivia in their free roles and a front three of Paredes, Sauzo and Alexis Sanchez, whilst Mauricio Isla kept his position on the right flank.
The star man for Chile in the second half was undoubtedly Jorge Valdivia, who gave the Chileans a fresh impetus going forward and was involved in everything. Venezuela struggled to contain Chile and it was only a matter of time before Suazo finally put the ball in the back of the net for Chile on the 69th minute after an unfortunate slip for Grenddy Perozo in the box gave Suazo the half a yard he needed to slam the ball in under the bar.
Chile kept pressing after the goal and to say they were playing to a specific tactic would be misleading, with every body bar Medel, Ponce and Contreras pushing forward at available opportunity to try and get the winner. But even though they were having to withstand a heavy barrage of Chilean pressure, it was Venezuela who took the lead. It was another Arango free kick that caused problems for Chile, this time the ball bounced awkwardly in front of Claudio Bravo, who spilled the ball to Gabriel Cichero, who had the simple job of prodding the ball over the line.
The final 10 minutes were even more frantic with two red cards – one for either side, in Medel and a very harsh one in the final seconds for Tomas Rincon – and Chile throwing everything their tired legs would throw at Venezuela, but the closest they came was when Vidal managed to get the ball past the goalkeeper after it broke to him in the box, only for Venezuela to clear the ball off the line again. Venezuela could have made it 3 several times in the dying minutes of the game, with Chile only leaving Contreras and Ponce back, but couldn’t capitalize on the numerous numerical advantages they had getting forward.
How it came about will be of little importance to Venezuela, who have confounded expectations to reach the final four of the tournament, and can point to several resolute defence displays to back up their claims that they deserve to be there. The only sour note will be the loss of their star player in Rincon, ahead of their tie against Paraguay. Chile, meanwhile, will be trying to figure out how they didn’t win after a second half in which they completely and utterly dominated, but more pertinently, they will be thinking about how to rectify their problems defending free kicks, which has come back to haunt them yet again.