Friday, 25 June 2010
Breathless Encounter Sees Chile Through
Chile 1 Spain 2, Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
So the bare facts are these. Chile, despite losing to Spain 2-1, make it a clean sweep for the South American teams in the 2010 World Cup. For the first time ever five South American teams progress to the second round. Chile will play Brazil on Monday in one of many mouth-watering Round of 16 ties.
But these facts do not even begin to describe the drama that unfolded at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria. Or the lack of discipline Chile showed on the big stage. La Roja began in the positive fashion that has been typical of their performances in South Africa so far. But then they pressed the self-destruct button and it is to their credit, and Bielsa's management, that they somehow found a way back into the match and did enough to qualify.
Were the players too pumped up? In a frantic opening period, there were some reckless tackles and Chile can have no complaints over the resulting yellow cards. The pressure Chile were exerting on Spain was impressive but they just went too far and Medel and Ponce were soon in the book. What's more they both now miss the next game. Ponce was particularly stupid, kicking out at Torres for no apparent reason and he was lucky to avoid a straight red. Then Estrada followed suit, diving into a tackle when prudence was the order of the day.
But despite these aberrations Chile were making all the running and playing some sparkling football. Alexis was heavily involved again, showing some delightful touches and incisive dribbling. Then a delightful dummy and spin from Beausejour saw him set free in the box. Unfortunately his cross was just behind Gonzalez and the ex-Liverpool man couldn't find the target with his shot.
Bookings aside, so far so good. Then came a further moment of madness, this time from captain and keeper, Bravo. He charged out of his box to deny Torres but instead of sending the ball into row Z, he put it straight into the path of Villa. The Barca man still had much to do but a delightful left-foot chip saw the Spaniards take the lead.
Beausejour almost made the perfect response but his attempted dink over captain Casillas was deflected just wide. But Chile were more than making a game of this one.
Until further disaster struck. A patient move from Spain led to Iniesta slotting home from just inside the box. To be 2-0 down was bad enough but then a glance at the referee, nicknamed Dracula in his native Mexico, saw him brandishing a red card at Estrada. Replays were needed to discover the reason why and looking at the incident again it looked harsh. It seemed that Estrada had clipped Torres' heels but how much intent was there was highly debatable. Hard to take but now a third Chilean player was suspended for the next round.
Half-time was needed and quickly.
Biesla decided on two changes at half-time. Surely a wise decision when playing with ten men to keep legs fresh. Millar and Paredes were on for Valdivia and Sanchez and the double substitution made immediate dividends. A smart piece of build-up play led to Millar receiving the ball on the edge of the area. His speculative shot took a wicked deflection of Pique and the ball was nestling in the back of the net. Game on and just the piece of luck that La Roja needed.
But with Fabregas now on the field and controlling possession for Spain , Chile, with a man down, couldn't create any further chances. Sanchez looked like being the one man who could give them some respite from the Spanish pressure but he was surprisingly removed from the fray, Orellana on his place.
The match then slowly ground to a standstill as both teams realised that, with Switzerland drawing with Honduras, the result was enough to see them both through. A rather farcical stand-off ensued with Spain happy to stroke the ball around the half-way line. Biesla's men seemed to accept the situation and the roar in the stadium and around Santiago that greeted the final whistle proved that the public were fully behind them.
After a breathless and action-packed first half when it looked like the wheels were coming off their World Cup campaign, maybe you couldn't blame their caution. If they can play with the same intensity and invention while keeping their heads at the same time, they can give anyone at this tournament a game.
Roll on Monday.
First stop - Plaza Italia.
How they lined up: Bravo (Captain), Carrizo (Yellow card), Isla, Medel (Yellow card), Jara, Vidal, Valdivia (Millar, 46),Gonzalez (Paredes, 46), Estrada (Yellow/ Red card), Sanchez (Orellana, 65), Beausejour