Once upon a time… in the practically brand new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, Chile was set to face off against the best in North America. It was Chile vs Mexico in the quarterfinals of the Copa America Centenario 2016. The stadium filled up with thousands of Mexican supporters wearing their traditional green, white and red. Though the tournament was held in the United States, Mexico was undoubtedly the host nation in every game. Just like in the Gold Cup, they had a strong team and with the home field advantage, they were expecting a remarkable tournament for el Tri. In their way was a seemingly weaker Chilean team who had won the Copa America the year before but seemed to be far from their best.
It was a tale of two opposites. Mexico was enjoying their best football in recent months. Gold Cup winners less than a year before and had won their Copa America group with little to no struggle. Chile on the other hand had lost their warm up friendlies and a loss to Argentina in the first game cost them first place. The game was expected to be a hard earned victory for the North American side but of course… Eduardo Vargas and Co. had something else in mind..
From the start, it was Chile who was the superior side. Easily. Whenever they had the ball, they stretched out the Mexican side and forced them out of shape. The incorporation of the wingers forced Mexico to retrieve defensively and they seemed to be outmatched. In a match where communication is key on defense, everyone on Mexico’s defense was on a different page and it would quickly come back to bite them.
Just 15 minutes into the game, Alexis Sanchez made a fantastic run wide to receive the ball deep inside Mexico’s own third. As always, Sanchez dragged various defenders leaving the middle open for a run. Sanchez and Aranguiz played a beautiful combination around several mexican defenders and the ball would end up at the feet of Marcelo Diaz. Diaz blasted it one touch straight to the hands of Memo Ochoa who failed to hold on. His save landed right at the feet of Edson Puch who tapped it home for 1-0.
The goal was like a bucket of ice cold water falling down Mexico’s head. The mexican side began attacking more aggressively and getting down the flanks. They failed to create serious danger but Chile were forced back deep into their own halves. Just as Mexico began knocking on Claudio Bravo’s goal, tragedy struck again.
In the 43rd minute, Beausejour took it down the left flank and waited for some help. In came Alexis Sanchez with his always-dangerous diagonal runs and he collected the ball at the edge of the box with his back towards the endline. Mexico had studied the Arsenal strike and knew what he was capable of. Instead of stabbing, they waited patiently to wait for his next move. Bad choice. With the ball at his feet for more than five seconds, he was able to pick out Eduardo Vargas. A horrible attempt of a clearance by Mexico left Varga all alone against Memo Ochoa and chilean made no mistake. 2-0 at half. Doable but difficult for Mexico.
Carlos Osorio smelled blood in the water and decided to make two subs to start off the second half. Gullit Pena and Raul Jimenez were brought on to help Mexico hold the ball and make those runs behind the defenders. However, while focusing on offense, Osorio completely disregarded his team’s defense. It began to show right away. Four minutes after the restart, Mexico failed to clear the ball out of their own third. Chile’s high pressure prevented Mexico from playing it out comfortably and instead of clearing it, they tried passing it out. Chile recovered the ball and a beautiful combination between Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez led to Chile’s third. Mexico’s defense was so awful that Alexis had time to trap the ball and shoot inside the box with no one around him.
Just two minutes later, Chile began dominating the ball and Mexico seemed helpless. They tried to hold a high line but it Miguel Layun didn’t seem to get the memo. The left back held a horrific line and a simple through ball to Eduardo Vargas was enough to send him 1v1. Again, he made no mistake and tucked it past Ochoa for a commanding 4-0 lead within the first 60 minutes. Osorio’s plan to dominate the midfield had backfired and Mexico’s defense was getting embarrassed.
Chile knew they had broken the Mexico side and were not showing signs of stopping. Five minutes later, more of the same. Chile attacked from the flanks and it seemed as if Mexico forgot to defend the outside backs. Alexis played Beausejour a tremendous ball and the left back received it with no one on his back just inside the box. His cross attempt was blocked by Ochoa but it landed right to Vargas. Vargas, much like in every other goal Mexico had surrendered that day, was all alone. He blasted it past Ochoa from 12 steps away to make it a whooping 5-0.
Osorio realized that his team was fragile in the back and the game was unwinnable. He decided to sub in an extra defender to try to stop Chile’s relentless scoring. It actually worked for awhile. Well, that and the fact that Chile focused on playing possession instead of actually going out to attack. In the 73rd minute, it was Mexico themselves who did the damage.
There was a misplaced ball in the back and the only person running after it was wearing a red jersey. He chipped it across the face of the goal and no one was there to meet it in the middle. The ball squirted to the back post where there two mexican defenders and one chilean. Out of those three, the only one to slide for the ball was the one who was leading 5-0. By sliding for the ball, he kept the play alive for the Mexico’s biggest nightmare: Vargas. Vargas slotted it home and again, he was all alone, and make it 6-0 for Chile. Mexico showed no heart and had clearly checked out of the game. Not only were they being dominated in every aspect of the game, they were being out hustled by a team that was winning 6-0.
The fans began to leave the stadium with their heads down in utter shame. It had been years since Mexico had suffered such a horrific defeat. The scoreline wasn’t even the worst thing about the game. The lack of concentration, tactical idea and motivation made the defeat sting even worse. The few Chilean fans began the “Ole” as their players played possession to kill time. Mexican fans went as far as booing their own players and somehow, I understand them.
Just as the game was ending, Chile added one final goal to the parade. It was Puch, the man who started it all, that struck the final blow to Mexico’s hearts. Chile again on the attack moved the ball around the box and with three passes, they broke Mexico’s defense for the billionth time. Pouch was all alone against Ochoa and chipped it ever so nicely over the Mexican defender. 7-0. Humiliation. Disaster.
I was actually at that game and it’s hard to describe the vibes in the stadium after the game. The fans became understandably agree at everything in sight. My friend and I were told to wait to leave the stadium for our own safety. It was a historic night for both teams but, obviously, for different reasons.
That night, Mexico learned that beating central american teams doesn’t put you amongst the World’s best. Chile also showed the World what they were capable of. It jumpstarted their Copa America tournament as they successfully defended the trophy. June 18th, 2016 has gone down in history as “THAT night in Santa Clara”.