Ralph Hannah –
Japan v Chile – Defending champions Chile came away with a comfortable win in their opener in the Morumbi against an experimental Japan side. The 4-0 victory was their biggest win since the last Copa América, a 7-0 rout of Mexico.
Japan v Chile Goals: 0-1 (Erick Pulgar, 41’ Pen.), 0-2 (Eduardo Vargas, 54’), 0-3 (Alexis Sánchez, 82′) 0-4 (Vargas, 83′)
Despite the scoreline, the Samurai Blue didn’t drop their heads at any point and but for profligate finishing could have got something from the game.
The Asian side managed by Hajime Moriyasu flashed a couple of shots over early on, and as is often the case with younger teams they were showing no fear. La Roja may have started slowly, but they were composed and kept possession while using their experience to draw fouls. But while the old guard couldn’t finish off chances in open play, they had to rely on Bologna’s Erick Pulgar who thumped a header home just before halftime, the midfielder’s first for the national side.
Similar to the Paraguay-Qatar game yesterday, any sign of early threat from the invited side was quickly snuffed out by the South Americans. Eduardo Vargas converted his 12thgoal in the Copa América to surpass Paolo Guerrero as the highest scoring active player in the competition.
Unlike the game on Sunday, Japan were unable to finish the chances created, one of the most exciting coming from a great solo run by teenager Takefusa Kubo who will be lining up for Real Madrid Castilla next season. The energy of the side was laudable, and it threatened to expose their rivals with fouls creeping in and more balls being lost.
But the value of having six players with over 100 caps in your squad began to show in the final 10 minutes of the game. One of those veterans, Mauricio Isla, had set up the 2nd goal and it was his well-weighted pass to Charles Aránguiz that saw the midfielder turn smartly in the box and cross to another centurion Alexis Sánchez to head home brilliantly for his 42nd international goal.
With Japan still catching their breath, Sánchez turned provider as he latched onto to a misguided header by the opposition and played a great pass on the turn to Vargas who was too quick for everybody including the onrushing goalkeeper. The Tigres forward now equalled Gabriel Batistuta on 13 goals and is just four short of the outright Copa América record held by Zizinho and Norberto Méndez.
For Chile the game served as something of redemption, their last competitive match had been on this same pitch where they fell 0-3 to Brazil and missed out on the 2018 World Cup. In fact in all six previous matches in the Sao Paulo stadium, they hadn’t registered a victory.
This concludes the first round of games and Chile’s late flurry has put them up there in the Top 4 with the other Match Day one winners so far, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay.
Japan v Chile – Lineups
Osako – Hara, N.Ueda, Tomiyasu, Sugioka – Maeda, Shibasaki, Nakayama, Nakajima – A.Ueda, Kubo
Manager: Hajime Moriyasu
Arias – Isla, Medel, Maripán, Beausejour – Aránguiz, Pulgar, Vidal – Sánchez, Vargas, Fuenzalida
Manager: Reinaldo Rueda
Ralph Hannah is Londoner, who has lived in Luque and is now located in Miami, with a keen interest in Paraguayan football history and statistics. A frequent traveler throughout Latin America he attends games throughout the region and has written for a variety of publications and set up the first English-language blog on Paraguayan Football. When not in the Defensores del Chaco he’s looking after his 2 daughters. Follow Ralph on Twitter @paraguayralph.