Chile’s indestructible team spirit and unyielding attitude have laid the foundations for a hugely successful run that will see them contest a third straight international final at the Confederations Cup.
Claudio Bravo proved Chile’s hero on Wednesday as the Manchester City goalkeeper saved all three penalties to eliminate Portugal in a semi-final shootout following a 0-0 draw after extra time in Kazan.
“That was unbelievably stressful,” admitted the 34-year-old Bravo, as Chile won 3-0 on penalties to set up a showdown on Sunday with Germany or Mexico.
“This team never gives up, which means we can achieve great things like this.”
While Bravo showed nerves of steel, his team-mates transformed iron will into cool composure as Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz and Alexis Sanchez calmly converted their spot-kicks.
With the European champions vanquished, Chile are eager for a potential rematch with world champions Germany as they attempt to add the Confederations Cup trophy to their 2015 and 2016 Copa America titles in Saint Petersburg.
“That was a crazy end, the first penalty is always the most important,” said Vidal, who buried Chile’s opening spot-kick just inside the post.
“We fought like crazy and now we hope we can face Germany in the final and also win.”
Chile qualified for Russia as South American champions, ahead of powerhouses Argentina and Brazil — winners of the Confederations Cup in 1997, 2005, 2009 and 2013.
Chile ended a 99-year wait for a maiden Copa America title in 2015, defeating Argentina on penalties, before retaining their crown a year later in a special centenary edition.
The rise of Chile’s La Roja has been consistent, and they were unlucky to lose out to 2014 World Cup hosts Brazil on penalties in the last 16 after beating defending champions Spain 2-0 in the group stage.
– ‘Very unpredictable’ –
They shook off that heartbreak to lift the Copa America on home soil in 2015, with Lionel Messi again reduced to tears and briefly announcing his international retirement as Chile downed Argentina following another shootout in 2016, this time in the US.
Forward Eduardo Vargas was the 2016 Copa America’s top scorer with six goals, while Alexis Sanchez was voted best player and Bravo was nominated as best goalkeeper.
The back-to-back titles were achieved with roughly the same squad, ensuring it is a group that can draw on the invaluable experience of achieving success on the big stage.
City’s Bravo and Arsenal striker Sanchez play regularly in England’s Premier League, while Vidal has lifted the Bundesliga trophy twice in as many seasons since moving to Bayern Munich.
After spells at Bayer Leverkusen and Juventus, Vidal replaced Bastian Schweinsteiger at Bayern and has developed into one of the world’s best midfielders, crucially calming his sometimes volatile temper in Bavaria.
Vidal chased Ronaldo around the pitch in Kazan, regularly robbing the Real Madrid superstar of possession and subduing Portugal’s leading threat.
The Chileans have earned fans in high places, with Germany coach Joachim Loew admitting he was fascinated by Juan Antonio Pizzi’s team before last Thursday’s 1-1 group stage draw.
“They are flexible like maybe no other side, very unpredictable,” said Loew.
“Almost every player is capable of scoring and wants to score goals.
“They are so flexible that, from time to time, you cannot tell which player is playing which position.”