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Jorge Sampaoli had to do without the suspended Alexis Sanchez for this match, just his second in charge of the national team, and the Argentine boss brought back memories of the team under Marcelo Bielsa by playing a back three with high wing backs.
Oscar Tabarez was without Maxi Pereira – so Matias Aguirregaray was the natural replacement – and he made three other significant changes picking Edinson Cavani instead of Diego Forlan, Gaston Ramirez instead of Cristian Rodriguez and Egidio Arevalo Rios instead of Diego Perez. Arevalo and Cavani, in particular, were not surprising selections seeing they had come on in the second half of Friday’s 1-1 draw with Paraguay. Interestingly, he chose not to play Diego Perez alongside Arevalo, opting again for an attack minded lineup with Nicolas Lodeiro playing midfield.
- Crossbars and faces were hit, shinbones and Uruguayan right backs were run all over and systems and formations were swapped and swapped time and time again. It was a breathtaking match.
- The first half was played at an incredible pace, with both teams taking it in turns to attack each other’s goal. Chile started really well, benefiting from a back three, by finding an extra man constantly in passing triangles. Uruguay had a good spell shortly after and during this time Chile countered well and opened the scoring from a casual ball over the top that wasn’t dealt with by the visitors. Aguirregaray took a touch, panicked and lost the ball and seconds later Esteban Paredes poked the Chileans into a 1-0 lead. Santiago exploded.
- With emotions high in the stands and on the pitch, the game cruised into another gear, one I was unsure it could even find. Thankfully the referee was in good shape and was able to keep up with the match because this was a typical example of the modern day game being played at a ferocious pace.
- Alvaro Pereira chopped down ‘the Pitbull’ Gary Medel when he left his studs raised to connect into his shin. Pereira didn’t even see yellow when he should have been sent off. Shortly after, Luis Suarez punched Gonzalo Jara in the face in the lead up to a corner, one the visitors who claim crossed the line. It was certainly a night for the officials to be on their game. Phil Dowd wouldn’t have lasted a half let me tell you!
- Aguirregaray was the final man to get booked in the first half when he chopped down Eugenio Mena, the left sided player who combined really well with Eduardo Vargas throughout. Aguirregaray was mercifully removed at half-time and although his replacement, Alejandro Silva, did hit the bar he also got booked and struggled up against Vargas, the game’s best player.
- It was a real joy to watch Chile express themselves with the ball and Sampaoli’s system deserves a tremendous amount of credit for that. They pressured intelligently without the ball and were comfortable with it throughout.
- It doesn’t take much to get Chilean fans to talk about Bielsa and they will be sure speaking of how much this side reminded them of his tonight. Even the changes Sampaoli made were something his fellow countryman would have done. Mati Fernandez brought a needed calmness in the midfield, when it was still 1-0, and then Carlos Carmona’s inclusion came at the exact same time as Diego Forlan came on the pitch. Tabarez countered and Sampaoli reacted perfectly.
- As the game wore on it was impossible for both teams to keep up the intensity but Chile got a deserved second goal when Vargas cut in to find Fernandez whose ball to Isla opened up the Uruguay side. Fernando Muslera stopped Isla’s attempt but the ball fairly rolled to Vargas and the 23-year-old aptly finished the game off.
- For Chile it was a massive three points, following four straight losses in qualifying, that will give them a real boost ahead of a winnable game at Paraguay in June. After that they finish with three of their last four games at home and now look a good bet to finish in one of the coveted top four spots for automatic qualification for Brazil 2014 (5th spot gives a playoff against Asia).
- Uruguay on the other hand are in massive trouble. It is now a real possibility that the 2011 Copa America Champions may not make the World Cup. Venezuela’s 1-0 win over Colombia this evening puts Tabarez’s men in sixth place with five games to play, three of which are away from home including their next match, at Venezuela. The only two home games they have left are also very difficult, against Colombia and Argentina.
- It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what has gone wrong for them but they do look a shadow of their formerselves in the transition and counter attack side of the game. Lodeiro in midfield was invisible, Ramirez was very poor once again and it is difficult for Cavani and Suarez to keep coming deep to receive the ball when those behind them are playing poorly. Tabarez is known for making key adjustments and his greatest test in this tenure as national team boss is right now. Not making the World Cup in Brazil would be nothing short of disaster for that nation and, quite honestly, a travesty for any of those who want to see the very best at the World Cup. Over to you Tabarez……