Copa America: Red-hot Chile march into semi-finals
Hosts show that they have the tenacity to match their finesse
(Mauricio Isla 81)
Two red cards and 90 minutes of relentless intimidation later, Chile emerged unscathed from a cauldron of violence.
The hosts had demonstrated an abundance of style in the Copa America group stage, during which they notched three wins out of three and scored a tournament high of 10 goals.
At the Estadio Nacional de Chile yesterday morning (Singapore time), they showed they have the tenacity to match the finesse, with a 1-0 victory over Uruguay to march into the last four.
Chile, with home advantage and a golden generation of players leading the assault on the South American crown, went into the game as favourites.
Mauricio Isla's 81st-minute winner settled the issue, but the match will be remembered for everything except the goal.
Uruguay resorted to the dark arts and deservedly ended the match with nine men. They hustled like burly men in the back alley of a dodgy street.
Star playmaker Alexis Sanchez was singled out for special attention and the impressive Isla, too, often found himself thwarted by questionable tactics.
Uruguay's tackles came in hard and late. They pockmarked the occasion with niggly fouls and disrupted its flow at every given opportunity.
Even the officials were not spared, often harassed by 11 angry men hell bent on imposing their will.
Amid the chaos, Chile stuck to their guns and kept their heads.
They wouldn't be rattled. They held their ground, weathered the abuse and kept the ball moving to their beat.
ATTACKING GAME PLAN
Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli stuck to an attacking game plan, in which the fullbacks in his four-man defence had licence to roam forward and the attacking trio of Sanchez, Jorge Valdivia and Eduardo Vargas ran at the opposing defence at will.
There was an air of serenity to their play that was just so impressive to watch.
But, to Uruguay's credit, their defensive strategy was working. For all of Chile's intricate build-up play, there was little of note to mention in the penalty box.
Until Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani cracked. And the retribution, in the 63rd minute, was laced with irony.
Already on a yellow for showing dissent at the assistant referee, the Paris Saint-Germain player was dismissed after a second booking for slapping Chile defender Gonzalo Jara, who had provoked Edinson by poking a finger on his bum.
Chile upped a gear. Uruguay simply turned more vicious.
Football finally trumped sinisterness nine minutes from time, when Isla slotted home a low shot from just inside the penalty area.
And when Uruguay defender Jorge Fucile was also sent off for hacking down Sanchez in the dying moments, tempers boiled over in the 15-time champions' camp.
An entire bench rushed onto the pitch to protest the referee's decision, while some players attempted to challenge the Chileans, as play stopped for five minutes.
At the end of it, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was sent to the stands.
Alas, defeat was inevitable.
The Uruguayans cried foul, questioning the standard of the refereeing after the match, but failing to look themselves in the mirror.
Chile marched on, with either Bolivia or Peru (who play this morning) next in their sights.
For 99 years, they have slogged in the Copa America without any success.
But it is looking like their time has finally arrived.
They had already exhibited the silk. Now they are showing the steel.