Claudio Bravo – Defending Chile’s Copa America

Claudio Bravo – Defending Chile’s Copa America

Manuel Veth –

It was one of the more bizarre moments of the Copa America Centenario when, right after referee Joel Aguilar from El Salvador whistled for halftime, announcements were made that the game had to be interrupted due to severe weather over Chicago.

At this point, the weather was not the only thing making a thunderous entrance, as Chile, once again, was dominant in the knock-out stage of the tournament.

On Saturday June 18, Chile had dismantled Mexico 7-0 in what has been the most stunning result in world football, since Germany’s destruction of Brazil in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup.

Against Colombia, Chile once again played powerful football, and the wingers Alexis Sánchez and José Pedro Fuenzalida were unrelenting as they surged forward. In the centre, Eduardo Vargas, who also can play as a winger, added to the speed, and Colombia seemed incapable of dealing with Chiles’ three fast attackers.

Seven minutes in, Chile was on the attack and Fuenzalida broke clear on the right, crossed left-footed; in the centre, Colombia’s Juan Cuadrado got his defensive header all wrong when, in trying to clear it, he played it to Charles Aránguiz, who volleyed the ball into the net.

Four minutes later in the eleventh minute, Alexis Sánchez cut in from the left, went past two, and fired a shot which hit the post—but Fuenzalida, followed up by just tapping home from a metre out. Chile looked faster and stronger up to this point, and they did all of this without Bayern Munich midfielder, Arturo Vidal, who was serving a suspension.

Claudio Bravo is One of Chile’s Best Players

With Chile’s attack taking centre stage in the matches against Mexico and now against Colombia, it is easy to forget that one of Chile’s best players is playing in goal.

In fact, Claudio Bravo had very little action in the first half as he wasn’t tested until the 24th minute when Colombia’s Roger Martínez tested the FC Barcelona keeper with a strong shot. He was then tested again in the 33rd minute when Santiago Arias broke through Chile’s defence. Finally in the 45th minute Bravo made a wonderful diving stop after a long shot by Carlos Sánchez.

Then came the thundershowers that, for two hours, interrupted the match at the Soldier Field in Chicago. Perhaps the extraordinary long break also serves as an analogy for Bravo’s status at Barcelona, where he shares the job between the pipes with the German keeper Marc-André ter Stegen, and therefore often has to take an involuntary break from the first squad.

Claudio Bravo has shared the goalkeeping duties at Barcelona with Marc-André ter Stegen

Claudio Bravo has shared the goalkeeping duties at Barcelona with Marc-André ter Stegen

Bravo had joined FC Barcelona from Real Sociedad San Sebastián after a very successful 2014 World Cup for €12 million. Bravo had been part of Real Sociedad since 2006, and had established himself as one of the strongest keepers in the Spanish La Liga. His club had been relegated to the Segunda División in his first season with the club, but Bravo was instrumental in the club’s promotion in the 2008-09 season, when he also won the Trofeo Ricardo Zamora, which is awarded to the goalkeeper, who has the lowest goals-to-games ratio.

In 2013, Real Sociedad finished fourth in the league and, in the following season, Real Sociedad once again had a solid finish, when the club from the Basque country finished seventh. For both years, Bravo was fundamental to the club’s success.

The World Cup in Brazil then did the rest to convince the bosses at FC Barcelona that Bravo could make it at the club. He was, however, not the only keeper signed by Barcelona that summer, as the Catalans also signed the highly talented Marc-André ter Stegen from Borussia Mönchengladbach for €12 million. Ter Stegen was widely understood to be one of the brightest goalkeeping prospects on the planet, but Barcelona’s bosses were not sure whether the then 22-year-old was ready for taking the job at Barca.

Job-Sharing at FC Barcelona

Hence, a job-sharing model was created at Barcelona where Bravo would play most of the league games, and ter Stegen, the Champions League matches and Cup matches.

For Barcelona, this model has been extremely successful, as the club has won La Liga and the Spanish Cup in 2015, and 2016, and the UEFA Champions League in 2015. This success is especially due to the fact that both keepers are not only fantastic shot stoppers, but are also excellent with their feet, and can therefore play as sweeper-keepers. Despite the job-sharing, Bravo ended up winning another Zamoro Trophy when he conceded just 19 goals in the 2014-15 La Liga season.

For the two keepers, however, this model has been frustrating at times, with both contemplating an exit from Barcelona—Ter Stegen has since, however, stated that he will remain with the club. Then towards the end of the 2015-16 season, Bravo picked up an injury and ter Stegen was the man who secured Barcelona the second league title in a row.

Back in Chile, the debate over who is the true number one at Barcelona has done very little to damage Bravo’s standing. In fact, in 2015, the keeper was a fundamental part of Chile’s first triumph at the Copa America. The country had never won the competition before and, as the host, was expected to finally win the title.

Chile met Argentina in the final, and the match went all the way to penalties. As expected, Lionel Messi stepped up and converted the first penalty for Argentina. But the second shot by Gonzalo Higuaín went over the net. Meanwhile, Chile had their first three penalties converted when Éver Banega stepped up. But Bravo saved the shot and, moments later, Alexis Sánchez converted the deciding penalty to win Chile their first Copa America. Bravo was then voted the goalkeeper of the tournament.

Bravo and Co. Will Want to Defend the Title on Sunday Against Argentina

After the two-hour interruption at half time, Centenario Chile defended their title at the Copa America in the match against Colombia by staying in full control of the game. In fact, the biggest obstacle in the second half against Colombia was the condition of the pitch that was severely affected by the rain that had fallen during the break.

In the 57th minute, Colombia’s Carlos Sánchez received a second yellow card, and was ejected from the game. Despite being a man down, Colombia attempted to get back into the match, but Chile was simply too strong in defense to give Colombia a way back.

In fact, one of the most demanding situations came in the 86th minute when Bravo received a difficult pass from his defense. But as expected from a Barcelona keeper, Bravo was not only able to clear the ball, but actually played a pinpoint pass that generated a chance for Chile that almost made it 3:0 through Alexis Sánchez.

Finally, the match ended 2:0, which paved the way for a repeat of last year’s Copa America final, as Argentina had defeated the United States 4:0 on Tuesday June 21 to reach the final, which will played in East Rutherford on Sunday June 26. For Argentina, and Bravo’s club mate Messi, this match will be all about redemption for last year’s final loss. For Bravo, however, the match will be all about confirming that he, and Chile, are number one in South America.

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London. His thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus