Quite what happened between Colombia and Chile on Friday night, it is hard to describe. But 90 madcap minutes showcased what football in South America has to offer. Six goals, three penalties, one red card. Insane, bonkers and frantic. But fabulous entertainment. It was what football should be like.
The players had run about for 90 minutes in the heat and humidity of Barranquilla, and for those watching at home on said dodgy stream it felt like they to had run around in the heat and humidity of Barranquilla.
For 65 minutes Chile were cruising towards confirming their place at next year’s World Cup in Brazil. A magnificent first 45 minutes that had this writer believing that Belgium are not the only not so dark ‘dark horses’. Gary Medel, Arutro Vidal, Eduardo Vargas, Jorge Valdivia, Alexis Sánchez and, of course, Jorge Sampaoli.
Much was made in the Chilean press prior to kick-off about the 32 degree heat and 78 per cent humidity in the northern city near the Caribbean Sea, famed for its festivals. Former players who had experienced Barranquilla and health experts were interviewed. It was said that the 15-20 minutes would be the hardest. But after an early scare, when Carlos Carmona was caught in possession by James Rodríguez and the Monaco attacker played in Teófilo Gutiérrez who fired over – providing the reminder that Chile are most susceptible when they are caught in midfield areas – La Roja played an exhilarating half of football that made a fool of the heat.
It was Colombia who looked leggy and it appeared there was only going to be one festival in the city and it would be red.
Pressing is the staple of many of the world’s best team’s game plans and Sampaoli’s Chile do it better than most. A re-jigged Colombia backline, with Cristian Zapata on the bench and Camilo Zúñiga injured, were rushed into passes and clearances as there was little build up from los cafeteros. The pace, the energy, the ferocity at which La Roja worked to close down and suffocate Colombia was a joy to behold – a swarm of bees attracted to Colombia’s yellow tops.
A frightening 10 minute spell between the 19th and 29th minute saw La Roja stun the Estadio Metropolitano – even the joyous pocket of Chile fans, decked in red. The goals not only showed the glaring weaknesses at the back for Colombia but more importantly the, shall we call them, triumvirate of doom leading La Roja’s attacks: Sánchez, Valdivia and Vargas.
None are number 9s but that works to their favour as seen in the first goal. Valdivia was labelled as a ‘false 9’ prior to the game but played more as a number 10 but with no one in front of him. Vargas and Sánchez were the forwards but freedom to move around. This bamboozled the Colombian backline, especially the centre back paring of Mario Yepes and Luis Perea. They had no idea who to mark and El Mago was allowed to slide a pass in behind which Vargas darted onto before being upended by David Ospina. Vidal netting the penalty.
The Colombian defence were pushing out and Chile’s players were simply spinning in behind and using their blistering pace to motor away. With Pablo Armero, nominally a left-wing back/left midfielder, at left back Vargas took advantage of vacant space to play in Valdivia who miss controlled and Sánchez swept in the second.
His brace was collected from a corner after further inept Colombian defending as Chile reacted quickest to first, second, third and fourth balls. Sánchez’s first half performance can only be described as world class. He is one of the very best at receiving the ball with his back to a defender and turning before accelerating away. His influence was such that he was fouled more than anyone (seven times) – Colombia, through the 90 minutes, committing ten more fouls.
Claudio Bravo pushed away a late Juan Cuadrado drive and the half ended 3-0 in favour of Chile. A score line that could and probably should have been more emphatic such was their dominance in every area. La Roja recovered the ball nearly five times as much as their opponents.
Even a Sampaoli team can’t quite keep the ferocity exerted in the first half up for too long and with two Colombian changes the home side expectedly were much improved and offered greater attacking intent in the opening stages. But even a reshuffle of the Chilean defence with José Rojas coming on for the injured Mauricio Isla failed to unsettle the team as for 20 minutes they repelled James and Falcao.
The game turned in the 66th minute, however, as Carlos Carmona, a replacement in the starting line-up for the underrated fulcrum of the side Marcelo Díaz, was sent off. A nothing yellow card on James, in comparison to some of the tackles dished out by Yepes and Armero, was followed seconds later by a second booking for a hand ball as he slid to block a cross.
With it Chile disintegrated with the two substitutions prior to the sending off, Rojas and Beausejour replacing Valdivia, proving to be disasters.
Gutiérrez netted for Colombia four minutes later after an awful clearance from Rojas, whose standards have slipped in recent months culminating in being dropped for Universidad de Chile despite being captain. Beausejour was non-existent when the game called for a more steady influence, such as David Pizarro, Charles Aránguiz or Francisco Silva. The latter would replace Vargas after the first goal.
But Chile were forced to defend their box and Silva, who was meant to bring a calming influence only made two passes from his time on the pitch. With Chile deep James came alive and finding more space to prompt attacks and he was to be influential in the two penalties Chile would concede.
Sampaoli would make the point after the game that the team are not used to defending so close to Bravo.
The first penalty saw James fall under little contact from Silva before a more clear cut penalty in the 84th minute after being wiped out by a unnecessary attempt to win the ball by Bravo – the second time he has done so in less than a week having conceded a crucial penalty in Real Sociedad’s defeat to Rayo Vallecano.
Falcao converted both and the game petered out as the score from the Ecuador versus Uruguay game filtered through. Colombia were through and Chile are on the brink. Uruguay who face Argentina need a comfortable win and hope either Chile or Ecuador win comfortably in the Estadio Nacional on Tuesday.
There will be few better 45 minutes of football than what La Roja served up in the first half, constantly dragging around and exposing the Colombian defence while operating a high press in baking heat. But there was no doubt the red card dramatically changed the game and it wasn’t helped by Sampaoli’s substitutions.
But, words just don’t do that game justice.