Saturday June 20th, 2015

SANTIAGO, Chile — Led by a brace from Charles Aranguiz, host Chile cruised to a 5–0 win over Bolivia on Friday in its final group stage game in the Copa America. The victory meant Chile finished atop Group A, while second-place Bolivia will also advance to the quarterfinals.

Here are three thoughts on Chile's win:

Vidal greeted warmly despite arrest

When the teams were read out before kickoff, it was Arturo Vidal’s name that drew the biggest cheer. Many former players and coaches have condemned the decision to let him stay with the squad despite being charged with drunk driving, and speaking with Chileans, there has been a deep ambivalence about the situation. But Jorge Sampaoli, the national coach, has backed him, as have Alexis Sanchez, the rest of the squad and the fans.

Planet Futbol
Despite attitude, actions, Arturo Vidal has Chile's backing at Copa America

Many have asked why he is allowed to play on having been charged with drunk driving when Neymar has been given a four-game ban following the incidents in Brazil's game against Colombia, when he picked up his second yellow card of the tournament, headbutted Jeison Murillo and then, according to the CONMEBOL report, abused the referee in the tunnel. But that is a false comparison. For one thing Vidal’s offense is not yet proven, and for another it falls outside CONMEBOL’s jurisdiction. It may be distasteful that he plays on, apparently unaffected, but that is a decision of the Chilean football federation; CONMEBOL cannot act.

Neymar's Copa America over after four-game suspension

Sanchez’s comments about critics outside the squad spreading “lies” suggested a circling of the wagons, and Chile began Friday's game as though it had a point to prove. It was ahead within three minutes as Gary Medel’s forward pass was dragged down by Eduardo Vargas. Whether it was deliberate or a miscontrol was difficult to say, but the ball rolled obligingly into the path of Aranguiz, who crashed an angled shot into the bottom corner.

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Sanchez then hit the angle of post and bar with a curling free kick before he got his first goal of the tournament eight minutes before halftime. Pouncing on a loose ball, he accelerated away from Martin Smedberg and slipped a pass outside to Jorge Valdivia. Valdivia seemed to have wasted the opportunity with a poor ball across the box, but Sanchez, plunging forward, guided the ball into the bottom corner with a diving header. 

By then, Chile was rampant, producing by far its best football of the tournament, and Vargas and Jean Beausejour both went close before halftime, by which point Chile was so comfortable Sampaoli felt able to take off Vidal and Sanchez to rest them for the quarterfinals. Aranguiz knocked in his second at the back post after neat interplay between Mati Fernandez and Angelo Henriquez, before Gary Medel defied his reputation by adding a fourth with a brilliant lob-volley. Ronald Raldes’s late own goal made it 5–0.

Soria's dream coming true?

When Maurico Soria took over the Bolivia national side, he said he wanted to do for his country what Marcelo Bielsa had done for Chile. He wanted to give it an identity and to generate a self-belief. Bolivia was solid if unspectacular in its opening game against Mexico, defending superbly to force a 0–0 draw. It then took its chances and rode its luck, clinging on to beat Ecuador 3–2.

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​This is the first time since 1997, when it hosted the tournament, that Bolivia has made it past the group stage, and even though it was well-beaten by the host, that is an achievement to be celebrated. Its problem here was conceding so early. Bolivia is a side set up to absorb pressure: Once it has to force the game, it loses much of its effectiveness.

​The center-forward Marcelo Martins is a fine leader of the line, somebody to hold the ball up and relieve pressure, while Pablo Escobar is a skillful 10, but there’s not a great deal of imagination to its attack. In the quarterfinals, Bolivia can be dangerous, but only if it can hold out and look to hit its opponent on the break.

Why don't final group games kick off simultaneously? 

Since the scandal of Gijon in 1982, when West Germany and Austria played out a 1–0 scoreline that ensured both qualified for the second phase, the final group games at the World Cup have kicked off at the same time to prevent that sort of collusion. Every other confederation follows the same logic—apart from CONMEBOL. Teams playing in the later game have a huge advantage because they are aware exactly what they need to do to go through. They know if the scores are level whether to chase a win or whether a point is good enough, whether to sit on a one-goal lead or if they need a second.

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In this case, any tension was taken out of the fixture: Ecuador’s 2–1 win over Mexico meant that Chile and Bolivia were guaranteed to take the top two slots in the group, and the only issue was who would finish first and so secure a theoretically easier quarterfinal tie. Any sense of peril, though, had been stripped from the game. Bolivia lost heavily, but it never really seemed to matter.

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