Copa América - Chile overturn stubborn Mexico
Mexico’s 19-year-old debutant Nestor Araujo had given Mexico a barely-deserved lead and, while at times Chile seemed laboured, they utterly bossed the match and deserved their two second-half goals which somewhat atypically came from set pieces.
Mexico’s Copa squad is filled with youngsters and fringe players: much of the Gold Cup winning side were rested for this tournament, while a full team’s worth of players were suspended through a combination of an Alberto Contador-esque clenbuterol/meat doping scandal and yet another disciplinary incident. Indeed, only five of the players are over the of age 22, with 10 possible debutants included before the opening match.
In one of the stranger halves of football this season, Chile utterly dominated their weak opponents, who barely touched the ball let alone fashioned any chances yet still entered the break a goal to the good after what can best be described as a freak goal.
Until Mexico’s fortuitous opener, the tournament underdogs were almost entirely pegged into their own final third as Chile’s slick-passing stars ran rings around them.
La Rioja had their chances too, the best of which came after just six minutes as Alexis Sanchez - courted by the world’s biggest clubs this summer - dragged his finish well wide of the far post when put one-on-one by Udinese team-mate Mauricio Isla.
It was not the only miss of the half too: Sporting Lisbon’s Matias Fernandez sent an inventive free-kick just wide, Monterrey forward Humberto Suazo clipped a finish just over after lovely one-touch play by his team-mates while a stretching Sanchez was unable to divert Jean Beausejour’s low cross-shot on goal.
Yet four minutes before the break, Auraujo - one of the six Mexico debutants in the starting XI - bagged a freak goal when his looping header beat a stranded Claudio Bravo after a poor flick-on by Rafael Marquez (the Morelia striker, not ex-Barcelona defender) diverted Giovani Dos Santos’s free-kick beyond a statuesque Chile defence.
As the whistle blew for half time the likes of Sanchez could be seen looking bewildered at going in a goal down and the shell-shock continued into the second half as they struggled to return to their rhythm.
But for all the possession, for all the pretty passing, Chile were flattering to deceive as that was Michel’s only major save of the night. Particularly culpable was star man Sanchez, courted by the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea and the Manchester clubs yet showcasing terrible delivery after the clever-clever trickery for which he is known.
Their control of the ball told in the end, but not as they anticipated: set pieces yielded both of Chile’s goals, the first coming when Paredes - who had come on for the ineffectual Beausejour - was on hand to divert a loose ball home when Mexico failed to clear a corner.
That was as scrappy as it could get from a corner but the second, with a quarter of an hour remaining, was as good as it gets: Fernandez’s superb delivery was met by a prodigious leap from Vidal, who powered an unstoppable header across Michel and into the top left.
Finally ahead, Chile seemed calmer as they picked Mexico apart as Paredes kicked air from Suazo’s low cross while Vidal almost found Suazo with a similar ball towards the end.
But, after 90 minutes of inactivity, Mexico threw in a David Haye-esque final round of wild attacks that could and should have yielded a leveller as, in the final minute, a succession of chances saw substitute Edgar Pacheco denied by a brilliant, brave stop from Bravo.
Chile were hanging on in the final seconds but the closed out the win and will now qualify from Group C if they beat Uruguay in their next match.