Chile 2015: When South America Stepped Aside to Welcome a New Champion

Chile 2015 is part of 90min’s 20 Greatest Teams of the Decade series.


The seeds of success for Chile’s 2015 side were sown well before 2015, but sprouted at the most magical of times when they played host to South America’s historic competition.

From the meticulous gardening work of Marcelo Bielsa’s, to the maniacal Jorge Sampoali and Claudio Borghi in between, what La Roja produced on home soil was a story for the generations.

A side bursting with life, playing with joy and fierce competitiveness, Chile secured their first-ever Copa America title that year with one of the greatest sides the decade has seen.

Bielsa set the tone for what was to come during his reign in charge of the nation, using a backbone of stars that would prove pivotal in the country’s later success. Known for his all-out, attacking and full throttle approach to playing, the team began to receive some plaudits.

His replacement Borghi opted for a different method. Adopting a more defensive-minded style that abandoned the high-energy pressing that was utilised under his predecessor, his stint at the helm ended with whimper, as six straight losses drew the curtain on an uninspiring tenure.

That saw Sampoali take the reins. Injecting his own methods in the side, what was clearly evident was the foundations set in place by Bielsa were being returned. The spine of the side so heavily relied, trusted by and effective under El Loco, returned to the fold.

Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, Gonzalo Jara in defence, midfield virtuoso Artuto Vidal, playmakers Valdívia and Fernández as well as forwards ​Alexis Sánchez and Humberto Suazo would play a starring role in the greatest year in Chilean football history.

Chile v Peru: Semi Final - 2015 Copa America Chile

Hosting the tournament, there were fears the added pressure could stunt Sampoali’s side, who had just seen the year before Brazil crumble on home soil on the World Cup stage.

Furthermore, some poor results in the build up to the tournament risked derailing the fine work the Argentine tactician had put in place, while off-field controversies were also in risk of tarnishing the country’s hosting of the tournament. Vidal had crashed his Ferrari while under the influence of alcohol, which coughed up an unsavoury backdrop to what was supposed to be a momentous occasion.

Pitted against Bolivia, Mexico and Ecuador in the group stages, it was the latter who were the opponents for the competition’s curtain raiser. Offering a resilient defensive structure with pace on the break, the normally free-flowing Chileans took their time to settle into the occasion.

It took until the 66th minute for the hosts to break the deadlock, as Vidal’s penalty settled countless nerves in the stadium. Eduardo Vargas sealed the tie late on, as the signs began to emerge that Chile were starting to rise to the moment.

With issues away from the pitch still surrounding the squad at this point, a second-string Mexico were up next. Twice coming from behind, the explosive attacking style that Chile had become synonymous with was coupled with uncharacteristic defensive flaws as the sides played out an entertaining 3-3 draw.


​Vidal, despite his ongoing controversies, grabbed a brace but saw his side surrender the lead they had fought back to claim, making the final group game a must-win. 

Having petered on the border of their free-flowing and swashbuckling style, Bolivia were put to the sword on matchday three with effortless precision. A five goal trouncing was on the cards with Sampaoli’s side rediscovering their magic touch, providing a stern warning for the other sides in the competition that Chile meant business.

Uruguay were up next in the quarter-finals, keeping La Roja at bay with an organised, deep-lying defensive setup. Gonzalo Jara’s unethical examination of Edinson Cavani’s nether region prompted the Uruguayan striker to be sent off, handing the home side an advantage – regardless of how uncalled for and unfair the referee’s decision proved to be.

What it did show was that this Chile side were desperate to win by whatever means, the grit and dedication they showed towards the cause coming to the fore…in some ways.

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The man advantage eventually told, with Mauricio Isla’s 81st minute winner sparking scenes of utter jubilation after working tirelessly to break down their rigid and resolute opponents.

Peru came calling in the semi-finals, with the entire nation of Chile now firmly believing that this would be their year. The footballing gods shined down on them once more, with Carlos Zambrano being sent for an early shower after just 21 minutes.

Chile assumed their position on the front foot, the only way with which they knew how to play, grabbing the opener through Vargas. 

Peru struck back to level matters, but the striker yet again salvaged his team’s hopes with a thunderous dipping effort that flew into the corner of the net. A moment of pure inspiration, from a player transformed in his side’s national colours.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, Chile were in the Copa America final.

Eduardo Vargas

Argentina were the only obstacle standing in their way. Under the guidance of an Argentinian manager, whose side’s style was forged under the guidance of another countryman of his, Chile were prepared to write history.

The hosts started as they meant to go on, swarming and harassing their opponents at any given opportunity. Always playing on the front foot and pressing high from the off, they were certainly up for the fight. Remember, this was an Argentina side who just lost the World Cup final one year prior.

Just as Bielsa had done before him, hours upon hours of studying how to eliminate ​Lionel Messi from the game was conducted by Sampaoli and his team. And it worked, for 120 minutes.

Neither side could find a goal for all their endeavour, despite Chile attacking for almost the entire game. 

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Penalties were coming. The hopes of a nation resting on five spot kicks. Except, there weren’t going to be five. They didn’t need them.

Fernandez set the tone with the opening penalty, absolutely leathering his effort into the top corner with otherworldly power. Messi did his part, before Vidal just did his. 

Gonzalo Higuain then ballooned his effort way over the bar to hand Chile the initiative. Charles Aránguiz made no mistake after, before Ever Banega was denied by Claudio Bravo.

Alexis Sanchez

With one kick to end years of agony, Sanchez’s mere stroke of the ball to send Sergio Romero the wrong way was, in many ways, antithetical to Chile’s style. With a light caress, the Copa America trophy had itself a new champion, but in a way that totally differed from the side’s hard-hitting, full force style.

However, the manner mattered little. Their outstandingly distinctive way of playing was rewarded, and this Chile side will live long in history for reaping the rewards of a golden generation.


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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Provides Update on Man Utd’s Pursuit of Erling Haaland

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has claimed that Red Bull Salzburg striker Erling Haaland “already knows what he wants to do” with his future, amid reports he’s set to join Manchester United.

Haaland is said to have already informed Solskjaer of his ​wish to sign for United in the January transfer window, although Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig are expected to push for his signature as well.

Solskjaer recently travelled to Salzburg for talks over the young striker’s future but, speaking after his side’s 1-1 draw with ​Everton, the boss refused to go into details about what was said, but suggested that Haaland has already made his mind up.

“There’s been plenty of speculation,” he said, “and you know I won’t talk about that, but he [Haaland] has had a great career in Salzburg, so he knows what he wants to do.”

Haaland’s father, former ​Leeds United and ​Manchester City midfielder Alf-Inge, was asked about the rumours by Norwegian outlet ​VG, but he also kept his cards close to his chest.

“I hope you understand that I can’t comment on all the rumours going on now,” he responded simply.

As noted by The Athletic’s David Ornstein, ​United are focused on securing Haaland’s signature in the January transfer window, and they were never interested in a move for Salzburg teammate Takumi Minamino – despite reports suggesting otherwise.

The Japan international is expected to seal a £7.25m move to ​Liverpool in January, and it was reported that they had capitalised on United’s inactivity to strike the deal, but it now appears as though those claims were wide of the mark.

Erling Haaland,Takumi Minamino

Instead, United remain committed to the idea of recruiting Haaland, and there is a real confidence around Old Trafford that they will be able to get the deal over the line. The striker is open to the move, with Salzburg would sell for the right price.

However, his agent Mino Raiola would prefer Haaland to move elsewhere, with ​Dortmund, ​Juventus and Leipzig all options, so United may have a battle on their hands to fight off the competition.


For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!

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Antoine Griezmann Reveals Favourite El Clásico Moment Ahead of Wednesday’s Encounter

​Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann has admitted he is looking forward to playing in his first El Clásico against Real Madrid on Wednesday, confessing he has always loved to watch the games on TV.

The game, which was rescheduled from October amid concerns that unrest in Catalonia could be dangerous, will see La Liga’s top two sides face off to try and assert their dominance over the other this season.

Speaking to the club’s ​official website, Griezmann could not hide his excitement at being able to feature in such on occasion, recalling Ronaldinho’s stellar showing at the Santiago Bernabéu back in 2005 as one of his favourite moments of all time.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “It’ll be an incredible day and I hope to go into the game in top form and to play well.”

“Everybody looks forward to this game. It’s a very important fixture both for the fans and for the players. It was always nice to watch it on TV. Now it’s a dream come true to actually be one of the actors in the show.

“The thing that I liked the most and which surprised me the most was the day they gave a standing ovation to Ronaldinho at the Bernabéu. I think Barça won 3-0 he had a great game and the whole stadium applauded him.”

That performance from Ronaldinho is widely seen as one of the finest individual showings of all time, and Barcelona fans will be desperate to see something similar from Griezmann on Wednesday.

However, they will come into the game on the back of a frustrating 2-2 draw with Real Sociedad, after which Griezmann told Movistar (via AS) that Barcelona simply have to be better if they are to beat Los Blancos.

“It’s a shame to draw but we gave everything we had,” he confessed. “We have to learn from this game and improve when we meet Real Madrid in El Clásico.”

Barcelona currently sit top of the league thanks to their superior goal difference, so a victory for either side on Wednesday would undoubtedly be vital to their side’s hopes of sealing the ​La Liga title when all is said and done.


For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!

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Freddie Ljungberg Ready to Deal With Mesut Özil After Angry Reaction to Substitution

Arsenal ​interim manager Freddie Ljungberg says he will deal with midfielder Mesut Özil, who reacted angrily to being substituted during Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Manchester City.

Özil was hauled off shortly before the hour mark, and he was greeted by a chorus of boos from many inside the Emirates Stadium. He looked to have kept his composure, but was seen kicking his gloves in frustration as soon as he had left the pitch.

Mesut Ozil,Freddie Ljungberg

Speaking after the game (via ​Sky Sports), Ljungberg insisted that ​Özil should not have responded in such a manner, so the club will deal with the German in due course.

“You should be annoyed when you come off, but I’m the coach at the moment and take the decision that I want more energy in the team,” Ljungberg said.

“We are a team that want possession, but sometimes we want to run, tackle and win the ball back. Emile [Smith Rowe] did extremely well in Belgium and I wanted to give him the chance, and I think he did well when he came on.

“For me, I took Mesut off because I wanted more energy in the team. If he wants to react when he goes off that’s up to him, and we’ll deal with it later.

“First of all, I am here on a day-to-day basis, so we’ll see what that is in the future, but of course we want players in the right way.”

Özil’s reaction came shortly after Arsenal released a statement ​distancing themselves from his comments about China’s treatment of their Uighur Muslim population. ​Club officials made a point of insisting that they do not want to get involved in the situation, which will likely have frustrated Özil even more.

Mesut Ozil

Rumours about a potential move away from the club were rife under Emery, and this latest outburst will likely fuel the fire for a little while longer.

Özil has started all three of Ljungberg’s league games so far but, outside of contributing an assist in the 2-1 loss to ​Brighton, he has been largely disappointing, and Ljungberg clearly felt that his side had a better chance of salvaging a result against ​City without him on the pitch.


For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!

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Fiorentina 1-1 Inter: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Late Vlahovic Stunner Denies Nerazzurri

A late stunner from Dusan Vlahovic ensured Fiorentina stole a point against Inter on Sunday, denying the visitors top spot in Serie A in the process.

Inter grabbed an early lead when Borja Valero showed neat footwork inside the penalty area before firing past goalkeeper Bartlomiej Drągowski at the Pole’s near post.

Fiorentina pressed well at times during the first half yet could have been two goals down when Lautaro Martinez threaded in another, only for Romelu Lukaku to be adjudged offside in the build-up.

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Inter were out-shot by their hosts as their pair of in form strikers failed to put daylight between the two teams, and were eventually punished when Vlahovic stormed away down the left before sending a whipped shot up and over Samir Handanovic from an acute angle in the 92nd minute.


​FIORENTINA

Player Ratings

Starting XI: Dragowski (6); Milenkovic (6), Pezzela (6), Caceres (6); Lirola (5), Pulgar (5), Badelj (6), Castrovilli (6), Dalbert (6); Boateng (6), Chiesa (5).

Substitutes: Vlahovic (7*), Benassi (5), Eysseric (5).


INTER

Key Talking Point

Following ​Juventus’ victory over Udinese on Sunday, Inter knew a positive result would put them back on top of Serie A.

Antonio Conte

Given how Inter have fared at Fiorentina in recent years – failing to win at Stadio Artemio Franchi in the league since 2014 – it was somewhat surprising to see Diego Godin dropped to the bench in favour of 20-year-old Alessandro Bastoni.

Fiorentina aren’t short on attacking options. Federico Chiesa is one of Europe’s most sought after forwards and the mercurial Kevin-Prince Boateng can pull a good performance out of the hat every now and then. La Viola certainly weren’t deprived of decent crossing opportunities throughout the game, either.

However, alongside Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar as part of Antonio Conte’s back three, Bastoni was more than assured. It also probably helps a fair bit as a young defender having a goalkeeper like Samir Handanovic behind you, too.

The late equaliser certainly put a dampener on the performance, and Conte will know his side need to be more clinical to ensure they don’t drop points in a similar game in the future.

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Player Ratings

Starting XI: Handanovic (7); Skriniar (7), De Vrij (7), Bastoni (8); D’Ambrosio (7), Vecino (7), Brozovic (7), Valero (9*), Biraghi (7); ​Lukaku (6), Martinez (6).

Substitutes: Politano (5), Agoume (5), Godin (N/A).


STAR PLAYER – Borja Valero has graced ​Serie A with his fleet-footedness and silky dribbling for the last seven years or so, but his spot in Inter’s squad under Conte was in question at the start of the season.

Borja Valero

However, a few injuries in central midfield have opened the door for the Spaniard again, with his appearances increasing over the past three or four weeks, and on Sunday he gave a timely reminder that even at 34 he still deserves a spot in the Nerazzurri side.

His driving run down the left opened up space for teammate Cristiano Biraghi before the former West Brom (!) and Villarreal man received a pass from Marcelo Brozovic, cutting back on to his right foot and firing in at the near post. Very nicely done.

Neither Stefano Sensi nor Nicolo Barella are expected to be available for Inter’s next game, but it’ll be comforting for Conte to know he has players who are able to step in and perform when the squad is depleted by injuries.


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Looking Ahead

Fiorentina will be back in action on Friday night, when they host fourth placed Roma. ​Inter face Genoa before the winter break, with the two teams set to return on Monday 6 January.


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