SANTIAGO, Chile – Action picked up in the Chilean capital, with the Copa America host nation storming back to force a wild 3–3 draw Mexico on Tuesday night.
Matias Vuoso scored an improbable brace for El Tri, but Arturo Vidal spared the host nation's blushes by leading a spirited effort to keep Chile atop Group A after an opening win over Ecuador.
The draw gives Mexico two points through two matches and keeps the CONCACAF nation in the mix for a knockout-stage berth, with the top two third-place finishers going through.
Here are three thoughts on the match:
Mauricio Isla and the shortness of Chile's defense
Mauricio Isla had a poor season for Queens Park Rangers, although it wasn’t entirely his fault. He is an unusual beast in modern football, a player who is a specialist wing-back. He isn’t defensively sound enough to play as a pure fullback, but nether does he have the tight technical skills to play as a right-sided forward. QPR signed him from Juventus to be a wing back, but within a couple of weeks of the start of the season, the system had changed and instead of a back three, Harry Redknapp had the side playing in a 4-4-2. That simply doesn’t suit Isla.
Even when Jorge Sampaoli selects a back four for Chile, as he did against Mexico, Marcelo Diaz sits deep in midfield and often drops into the position of a third center back. That means that Isla has license to push forward on the right. When he does that, though, whether playing as a wing-back or an attacking full-back, he is susceptible against quick left-sided midfielders, as Jefferson Montero showed for Ecuador in the opening game.
The build-up to Mexico’s opening goal showed the sort of trouble Chile’s pressing game can get it into. Three of the back four pushed out, Gonzalo Jara stayed in, and Mexico was suddenly left with a three on two break. It almost messed it up, but Juan Carlos Medina turned a deep ball from the left (Isla’s side) back across the face of goal and, despite a pretty clear handling offense form the retreating Jara, the ball found its way to Matias Vuoso, who guided it past Claudio Bravo. The third, Vuoso’s second, also came from the line pushing too high without pressure on the ball.
It was down the left that the move for Mexico’s second goal began as well. Claudio Bravo made a stunning save to keep out Gerardo Flores’s header, parrying the ball up onto the bar, but Raul Jimenez headed in the corner that resulted. If Isla is one weakness at the back for Chile, another is the lack of height. It will always be vulnerable in the air.
The excellence of Arturo Vidal
Is Vidal really the same player after his knee injury? He himself admitted just before Christmas that he was still feeling the effects of the injury and his recuperation. Even as Juventus reached the Champions League final, the suspicion lingered that he wasn’t quite as sharp, incisive or tireless as he had once been. The 28-year-old answered many of those doubts on Monday.
Operating on the right side of midfield, he was by far Chile’s most incisive player.
To say he was a right winger would be inaccurate. Chile’s system is too dynamic to be pinned down by such rigid terms and he regularly switched with both Eduardo Vargas and Jorge Valdivia, but its says much for his versatility that he can take on a wide role so effectively when he is more often deployed centrally.
He scored Chile’s first goal with what at the time appeared a superb header, but turned out to be only the third best header of the first half. It was then was his cross that Vargas—another who underwhelmed at QPR this season—diverted past Jesus Corona with a quite brilliant header. And 10 minutes into the second half, his pace and desire took him across the run of Flores who tripped him. Vidal got up to bang in the penalty, his third goal of the tournament.
The home crowd showed its importance
In the opening game, there was a sense of nervous expectation about the Estadio Nacional that seemed to communicate itself to the Chile side, which, after its early thrusts hadn’t given it the lead, became increasingly apprehensive until a soft penalty handed it the opener.
Here the problem was the opposite—something Sampaoli had half-anticipated, repeatedly warning anybody who’d listen about the dangers of the sort of hysteria Brazil underwent in last summer’s World Cup. After Chile had twice fought back from going behind to take the lead to take the lead itself, there was a palpable sense of relaxation, to the point that waves swept around the stadium even with 30 minutes remaining.
Whether that communicated itself to the players is difficult to say, but there was certainly something oddly sloppy about the way the back four pushed up and nobody closed down Adrian Aldrete before he lofted a simple ball into space for Vuoso to run onto.