THE Confederations Cup continues on Wednesday and we asked international football analyst Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) for his thoughts on the semi-final clash between Portugal and Chile.
Portugal v Chile | Wednesday 19:00 | ITV
European champions Portugal take on reigning two-time Copa America winners Chile in Kazan on Wednesday night to fight it out for a place in the final of the Confederations Cup.
Chile star Arturo Vidal has unnecessarily fanned the flames and ramped up the tension ahead of the contest, by blasting Portuguese skipper Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 was somewhat bizarrely named Man of the Match in all three of the Selecao’s group-games and Vidal didn’t hold back when asked for an opinion.
Vidal called Ronaldo a “smart ass” and claimed Chile would be meeting Germany in Sunday’s final, telling reporters in Russia: “Cristiano is a smart ass!. For me he does not exist. I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate [and Germany international]Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final!”
Portugal topped Group A on goal difference from Mexico but Fernando Santos’ side will feel they should have taken maximum points from their three pool outings. The Selecao twice let a lead slip in their opener against Mexico, carelessly conceding a stoppage-time leveller.
Santos made four changes against Russia and a more fluid 4-4-2 system involving Bernardo Silva from his preferred right midfield role paid dividends as Portugal secured a 1-0 victory, having restricted the hosts to no shots on-target.
It took for Portugal to get going against New Zealand but two quick goals before the interval ended the contest, even allowing Ronaldo an opportunity for a rest midway through the match. The Selecao eventually ran out 4-0 winners.
Portugal have now recorded clean sheets in 10 of their past 14 fixtures and returned a hugely impressive W23-D11-L4 in competitive clashes since Euro 2012. The Iberians have scored at least twice in each of their last nine outings whilst eight of their past nine victories arrived by at least a three-goal margin.
Portugal’s team news
The Selecao are a devilishly difficult team under the ultra-organised watch of Santos but the pre-match favourites are presented with a couple of concerns coming into this clash, particularly in their wafer-thin defence.
Key centre-half Pepe is suspended and regular left-back Raphael Guerreiro will miss the remainder of the competition. Right-back Cedric Soares returned to training on Monday but second-choice left-back Eliseu was absent through illness. Should the latter miss out, Nelson Semedo will fill-in.
Bruno Alves and Jose Fonte are likely to fill the centre-back positions and their lack of pace is a potential problem for Portugal. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see William Carvalho back in a holding role with Santos returning to the crushing blanket midfield that stifled opponents at Euro 2016.
New Milan signing Andre Silva should continue in attack alongside Ronaldo. Despite missing out on the Euro 2016 squad, Andre Silva has scored eight goals in 11 internationals, providing Portugal with a much-needed cutting edge.
Chile dominated Cameroon in their opener but profligate finishing meant La Roja required two late strikes to see off the Africans despite facing just one on-target effort. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men then took on world champions Germany.
Chile started superbly, grabbing the opening goal and smacking the bar before leaking before the interval and running out of steam in the second-half of a 1-1 draw.
However, the Copa America champs toiled to a 1-1 draw with outsiders Australia in their final outing. The Socceroos’ high press and aggressive defence ensured Chile struggled to keep possession, resorting to long balls on too many occasions. It took an equaliser from the substitute Martin Rodriguez to secure the point.
Pizzi went for an attacking side against Australia but the balance didn’t look right in midfield. Although La Roja improved after a double substitution at half-time, it was a far from a convincing display from a Chile side that’s now managed just W1-D3-L1 in their last five – albeit an W11-D6-L2 record in major tournament matches.
Chile’s team news
Goalkeeper and captain Claudio Bravo returned for the Australia encounter meaning Pizzi has a full-strength squad to select from on Wednesday night. But debate will rage on over which system and personnel deserve their place in the XI.
Against Germany, Vidal was given license to join in with the front two of Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas and a similar approach would seem sensible here. Marcelo Díaz should return to his holding midfield role but doubts have begun to circle around the national side with fatigue being a key concern.
Chile’s style of play can be as exhausting as it is bold. The relentless pressing is tiring and this team is ageing. It’s the fourth consecutive end-of-season tournament for La Roja and many fear the heavy workload is taking a toll.
At their best, Chile make the ball fizz in possession and keep the opposition in a stranglehold. Constant movement is required, both to give the man on the ball options for a quick pass, and to close the opposition down as soon as the move breaks down.
But in both games against Germany and Australia, it was notable that space began to open up toward the end of the first-half. After looking to seize the initiative in the early stages, Chile were heavy in the legs, no longer able to stay compact, and their opponents came charging through the gates.
Mexico troubled Portugal with a high tempo, high press tactic – Chile’s forte – but La Roja have been given one day’s less rest from the group-stage and have already shown an inability to maintain the energy required to persist with their 100mph swashbuckling style.
The betting angle
Before I pen Chile’s Confederations Cup obituary, it’s worth highlighting their potential to perform against the odds in knockout football. La Roja saved their best performances for the latter stages of last summer’s Copa America triumph and over the past two summers they’ve found ways to progress despite not being at their best.
Mexico, Colombia and Argentina were all ousted 12 months ago and so, whilst Portugal are fair and firm favourites, I’m unwilling to get involved at the odds on offer for either side. In fact, the stalemate is what appeals most here.
Portugal haven’t really hit any heights of fluency themselves and shown a profound efficiency in beating weaker sides under Santos’ reign. En-route to Euro 2016 glory, the Selecao recorded W1-D6-L0 in 90 minutes.
Chile have suffered a sole competitive reverse in eight and I’ve also shared their excellent record in major tournament football earlier in this piece – two losses in 19 – so immediately the draw stands out.
Four of Portugal’s past 12 knockout games have concluded goalless, five of which required extra-time – only three featured more than a solitary strike. Three of Chile’s previous six knockout games were also settled by no more than one goal, highlighting the value in backing 0-0.
Meanwhile, Portugal are on a 10-match scoring run – notching at least twice on nine occasions – and Chile have fired a solitary blank in 11 with four of their last six meaningful matches seeing both sides score.
Portugal v Chile – No goalscorer (17/2 SkyBet Hill)
Portugal v Chile – 1-1 correct score (6/1 William Hill)
Portugal v Chile – Both Teams To Score (19/20 Betfair)