Chile, Mexico share six goals in wild Copa America draw

BY Jonathan Wilson • June 15, 2015

SANTIAGO, Chile --

Nobody is without flaws. As the second round of the games in this Copa America began, there is not a single contender that hasn’t demonstrated at least one major weakness.

Chile twice fought back from behind and created the better chances in its 3-3 draw against Mexico on Monday, but, for all the attacking flair it demonstrated, its persistent defensive shortcomings continue to raise major doubts as to whether it can end its 99-year wait and win its first Copa America. Mexico, after a second successive draw, may yet top the group, but El Tri needs to beat Ecuador in its final game if it is to have a hope of going through as anything other than a best third-place side.

In Arturo Vidal, Chile probably has the player of the tournament so far. He scored his second and third goals of the competition, including, for the second game running, a penalty he had won himself. He set up another goal and generally served as a source of drive and inspiration. But, perhaps most important of all, he embodied the necessary spirit as Chile twice came from behind to secure a point.

This is a Chile side built for possession. It presses high into midfield, looking to swamp the opposition and prevent it ever building attacks. It defends as high up the pitch as possible in the modern way, largely because it isn’t very good at more traditional ways of defending. Those measures ideally mask two obvious flaws: its pressing game means it can leave space behind it, while its lack of height means it will always be vulnerable in the air. Both weaknesses were in evidence on Monday.

The game began tentatively, an illusory return to normality after the harum-scarum raggedness of Brazil’s win over Peru and Bolivia’s victory over Ecuador. Suddenly, after 21 minutes, Gonzalo Jara found himself caught three of four yards behind the defensive line and Mexico stormed forward on a three-on-two break. The ball was swept deep to the back post where Juan Carlos Medina headed it back across goal, via the hand of Jara, for Matias Vuoso to nudge the ball over the line. There had been nothing in the first 20 minutes to suggest the magnificent chaos that was about to be unleashed.

The response from Chile was immediate with Vidal heading in Charles Aranguiz’s right-wing corner less than a minute later. But, within seven minutes, Mexico was back ahead. The goal again came from a cross on the right as Mexico continued to expose Mauricio Isla’s deficiencies as a defender.

Although Claudio Bravo made a brilliant save to turn Gerardo Flores’s header up and onto the cross bar, Raul Jimenez twisted in the air to send a firm header past the Barcelona goalkeeper on the resulting corner. That was a fine header, but it was bettered three minutes before half-time as Eduardo Vargas headed Vidal’s cross form the right into the bottom corner – a quite stunning goal.

Ten minutes after the restart, Chile claimed the lead, and, again, Vidal was at the center of it. His surge into the box meant he ran across the line of Flores as he retreated. The Mexican defender couldn’t get out of the way and clattered through Vidal. The influential midfielder got up and then dispatched the penalty.

The mood in the stadium immediately relaxed and waves swept around the bowl, as though the crowd felt the job was done. But with 66 minutes played, Chile’s high line was its undoing again. If the line goes high, there must be pressure on the ball or the player in possession does what Adrian Aldrete did:  lift a simple pass into space behind the defense. Vuoso ran on to help the ball past Bravo to punish Chile for its failure to close effectively.

Chile, to its credit, came again, though the officials rather frustrated the efforts. Valdivia had already had a crisp low strike ruled out for offside and Alexis Sanchez then tuned in an Isla cross only to find he had been perhaps a yard ahead of the line, according to the assistant referee. Sanchez and Valdivia both fired shots narrowly wide after neat passing moves. Chile was far more fluent, far more impressive from an attacking point of view than it had been last Thursday, the overlaps more effective, but it came at the cost of defensive solidity.

Chile still tops the group and with four points. The hosts will almost certainly go through to the last eight, even if they end up third in the group. But this is a tournament whose draw has been kind: finish top and Chile should avoid Brazil and Argentina until the final. Finish second, though, and the route to the final begins to look far more complicated. Such advantages should not be cheaply scorned.

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