Chile advance the hard way, while Colombia taste disappointment
Perhaps Chile fans will now stop booing the name of coach Reinaldo Rueda when the line ups are announced in the build up to the kick off.
They certainly should stop booing him. Chile's qualification for the semifinals of the Copa America -- achieved with a penalty shoot out win over his native Colombia -- is his triumph, in which several obstacles had to be overcome. The first was the 8pm kick off -- dangerously early in the gridlocked city of Sao Paulo. Many of the supporters arrived at the stadium late -- as did the Chile team bus, caught up in traffic for two hours. The kick off was put back 20 minutes while they hurriedly prepared.
And there is another, more general sense in which timing is against the Chileans. There is an ageing side, little changed from the one that ran out of steam and failed to qualify for last year's World Cup. The high intensity, high press style that won the Copas of 2015 and 2016 is beyond their reach.
But under pressure for results and with a lack of quality young players coming through, Rueda has had to adapt. On paper the side looks almost identical to the 2016 team, in the same 4-3-3 formation. But Rueda has made important adaptations that take into account the limitations of an ageing team
Chile lacked defensive height -- never a huge problem for a side that sought to plant its back line far from goal. That has had to change. Centre back Guillermo Maripan and holding midfielder Erik Pulgar are tall and good in the air. Chile now have tweaked their style. They can now defend deep for long periods.
Rueda has instilled basic concepts; his Chile look to defend in reduced spaces, and attack in large spaces, opening up the field with good use of the flanks. He has clearly done a fine job winning his team over to the new model of play. And, in little bursts, they can still come up with moments that recall the Chile of old. Midfielder Charles Aranguiz had the ball over the line at the end of the move down the left flank which culminated with five Chilean players in the Colombian penalty area.
After lengthy VAR consultation, the goal was ruled out for a very narrow offside at the start of the move. And in the second half, when Arturo Vidal stroked home a left footed shot, that too was ruled out after looking at the video evidence -- this time for the type of hand ball in the build up which has only just started to be penalised.
Chile, then, twice appeared to have scored against a team which did not concede a goal in the competition. Back in 2016, when Chile won the last Copa, both would have stood. Reinaldo Rueda and his men did it the hard way.
And what of Colombia? Strong favourites going into the game, the only team with a 100 percent record, how come they were unable to make an impression on the Chilean defence? It certainly seemed in the first ten minutes as if they were going to blow Chile away. In the end, though, it is hard to recall a single save that Chilean keeper Gabriel Arias was forced to make. There were certainly spells when Colombia were on top; when, for example, the hard running of support striker Roger Martinez appeared to pose a serious threat. New coach Carlos Queiroz was surely guilty of showing too much loyalty to his captain and centre forward, Radamel Falcao.
Now 33 and with a history of injuries, Falcao is in decline. And even at his best he had weaknesses as well as strengths. A wonderful front to goal sight, his link up play has never been anything like as impressive. It is worth remembering that in the 2014 World Cup, the big triumph of James Rodriguez, Falcao was missing through injury. There was not enough partnership work between Colombia's two attacking stars, and Queiroz surely waited too long to replace Falcao, only bringing on the fearsomely strong Duvan Zapata for the last ten minutes. By then it was too late.
As the second half wore on, Colombia lost the midfield battle. Searching for extra creativity, Queiroz replaced the dynamic Matias Uribe with the gifted but not dynamic Edwin Cardona. Rueda replied by withdrawing the right sided Jose Pedro Fuenzalida and reinforcing central midfield with Esteban Pavez. Chile took quiet control of the closing stages and Zapata was left isolated.
Even the penalty shoot-out pointed to immaculate planning by Rueda and his staff. Alexis Sanchez clinched the semi final place with a cool little finish. All four previous takers had made a point of shooting high -- a winning move against the relatively short David Ospina. And Colombia were asking for trouble by sending left footed defender William Tesillo to take the crunch fifth penalty.
He shot wide, Sanchez did the rest, and Chile march on. They may not be what they were three years ago. There will be no repeat of that astonishingly vibrant 7-0 win over Mexico. But with an experienced team guided with wisdom and tranquillity, the champions have made it clear that they intend to fight as hard as possible to keep hold of their title.