In the second semifinal in Copa America Centenario, Colombia will play against Chile on Wednesday.
Chile came to the Copa full of doubts, after losing a home friendly against lowly Jamaica, and being defeated by Mexico in U.S. soil. What made matters worse, Argentina beat Chile 2-1 in their opening match, and Chile only went ahead against Bolivia with a controversial call from the referee. Chilean pundits and fans started wondering whether Juan Antonio Pizzi was the right man to succeed Jorge Sampaoli, as his relaxed ways in terms of discipline and work didn’t seem right for this group of players.
But then something clicked. Chile defeated Panama 4-2, and it wasn’t as close as the score might suggest due to two heinous mistakes, made by keeper Claudio Bravo, which resulted in Panama’s two goals. Eduardo Vargas scored twice after an eight-month scoring drought, and Alexis Sánchez also scored twice–a volley and a beautiful header.
And then, Mexico’s drubbing. Four days later it’s still inexplicable what happened in that game. The only blemish was Arturo Vidal’s second yellow card in two consecutive games, which will keep him out of the match. Midfielder Marcelo Díaz, the barometer of the team, didn’t practice today as he’s nursing his hamstring, and Alexis was also held out of practice because Pizzi decided that he needed a rest.
Pizzi’s team is clearly on the rise, and they seem intent on defending their title. However, their style might play right into Colombia’s hands, as manager José Pekerman is quite content to let the opposing team dictate the tempo of the game, and wait for James-led dangerous counterattacks.
Prediction: In a hard-fought game (this time, for real), Chile will beat Colombia and meet Argentina in a rematch of last year’s final.
Truth be told, Colombia, in this Copa America, have looked a glimpse of the team that made an impressive run to the quarter-final stage of the 2014 World Cup. Granted, James had a superb tournament back then, and Falcao was still in the squad, along with Jackson Martínez, but things were in-tune with that team. They were one of the better sides to watch in that global tournament. Zillion times better than Brazil, if nothing else.
Now, their play has become much more about crossing, long balls, and just employing physicality on the opposition. The lack of creativity was on display in their quarter-final matchup versus Peru, where they failed to break the deadlock of a hardly mediocre Peruvian side on the day.
That is probably the biggest concern for Pékerman going into this game. There’s no one in this Colombian midfield who can control the tempo of the game. James is much more about playing that little one-two with a fellow teammate or making that crucial through ball. To use a personification that will be fairly well-known in the minds of U.S. fans, there’s no Banega in this Colombia team.
This can also play into Pékerman’s hands if he can set up a team that’s physically strong in midfield, and make them defend primarily. Counter-attacking plays are one of Colombia’s most powerful tools, and with the likes of Cuadrado, Bacca, and James, who can all run by defenders in a flash, it has to be one that the manager uses effectively. Otherwise, Chile will run rout in the way they’ve done against Mexico.
Prediction: Chile will get an early goal, Colombia will equalize, and then Colombia to get the winner. So, 2-1.
Chile: Bravo; Isla, Medel, Jara, Beausejour; Silva (or Hernández), Díaz, Aránguiz; Sánchez, Vargas, Puch.
Colombia: Ospina; Arias, Murillo, Diaz, Zapata; Carlos Sanchez, Perez; Cuadrado, James, Cordona; Bacca.
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