After Wednesday’s first FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final, the rest of the world now knows that Chile are not an accident in football.
No one saw them coming but they are here now. After throwing South American power houses Brazil and Argentina off their patch with back-to-back COPA AMERICA victories in 2015 and 2016, Chile have now taken their fight for respect on the world stage.
Their latest victim – European champions, Portugal – would not have known that the world order has been invaded by an alien. After Wednesday’s first FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final, the rest of the world now knows that Chile are not an accident in football.
Led by four time Fifa Ballon d’Or winner Christiano Ronaldo, Portugal had gone into the semi-finals as the joint tournament highest scorers with seven goals (3 more than Chile) and also with the joint best defensive record. They had conceded just two goals.
There wasn’t much to choose between the two sides in open play but there was enough individual quality to make this open game an extremely engaging affair. Game of the tournament so far. Once more penalty saving expert Claudio Bravo, Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and Arturo Vidal were the protagonists for Chile, while goal keeper Rui Patricio, Ronaldo, Bernard Silva and William Carvalho were the movers for the European champions.
With two goals and one assist, including a man-of-the match performance, Ronaldo bowed out of the tournament with a measure of respect, but his inertia against Chile will have armed his critics.
The kind of criticism that has been reserved for Cameroon, the latest African representatives to make a poor representation of African football.
Chile made them look outlandish in the opening group game as they lost 2-0 before retrieving a face saving point against Australia. But in their final group game against a hastily assembled Germany, they were obliterated. The world champions could easily have run away with a cricket score had it not been for goal keeper Fabrice Ondoa’s heroics.
The Indomitable Lions couldn’t get a grip of the match and they were never in the contest. They were clearly punching above their weight. It was a sharp contrast from European and South American representatives Portugal, Germany, Mexico and Chile whose group performances confirmed their status as the continental benchmark for the world game. The 2-2 draw between Portugal and Mexico was a thriller, the goalless semi - final encounter between Portugal and Chile end-to-end stuff.
The overall performance of Germany however, is what has been the highlight of the tournament. Led by Draxler, Kimmich, Warner, Emre Can, Demirbay and Ter Stegen, the world champions have alerted the other 31 nations that will assemble in Russia to contest for the 2018 Fifa World Cup of their strength and quality in depth. The youngsters have played the most eye catching football, passing and moving with dexterity and finishing with precision.
As the final beckons, looking back at the positives in this year’s tournament becomes inevitable. Fifa have lauded their latest innovation; the video assistant referees (VARs) which they are now referring to as ‘the future of football.’ In the absence of big name super stars, goals galore and a great football spectacle, Russia 2017 will be remembered as the tournament that split football fans opinion right down the middle.
The ‘milestone tournament,’ as Fifa president Gianni Infantino has described it would not have been, but for the video assistant referees. Portugal defender Pepe and Chile forward Eduardo Vargas had ‘goals’ correctly ruled out for offside while Tomi Juric's goal for Australia against Germany was allowed to stand despite a suspected handball.
Cameroon’s defender Mabouka was red carded retrospectively. The stop, start routine has been a regular sight in normal time, sparking off a debate amongst fans as to whether football has not been robbed of it’s natural entertainment value which foundation is built on instinctive reactions. Those raw emotions that are triggered on and off the pitch as soon as a ‘goal’ is scored, or an incident happens.
While television fans seem the most riled and irritated by this technological innovation, it’s unclear whether live fans in the stadium share the sentiments. What has been evident, is that players on the field affected by a net decision after VARs intervention quickly accept the verdict and get on with play, which wasn’t the case before when the center referee made all the decisions. Clearly, humans know they don’t stand a chance arguing with the exact science of technology. Hopefully, players will stop deliberate cheating, simulation, or even engaging in ugly ‘off-the-ball’ incidents.
More importantly, teams will celebrate deserved victories. The prayer is that video technology will have a lesser role to play in the final tomorrow as Chile lead the challenge to win their first ever Fifa Confederations Cup at the first time of asking.