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Peru went into their colossal Copa America semi-final clash riding the crest of a wave and brimming with confidence.

After all, they had just demolished Bolivia 3-1.

Alexis Sanchez continues to show why he's so valuable to ChileIn a match where their talismanic forward, Paolo Guerrero, notched a hat-trick. Moreover, they’d also put in strong shifts against Brazil and Colombia. Ricardo Gareca’s team has been steadily improving as the competition has worn on, with the likes of Jefferson Farfan, Claudio Pizarro, Christian Cueva and the aforementioned Guerrero, having a real impact.

Chile is a different beast all together though. They’ve been the premier team throughout the event. In addition, coach Jorge Sampaoli’s attacking philosophy has seen the team play some wonderfully exciting football at times, and accompany style with substance, as they’ve been getting the required results needed to progress. Despite La Roja’s obvious advantage in talent, Gareca knew his adversaries were feeling the pressure too.

“It’s a lot of pressure and responsibility because at this point we need to win, and there is no other possibility, which builds pressure. We face it, but the Chileans feel it too and we can take advantage of that”, he said.

Juan Manuel Vargas of Fiorentina, who’s a vital component of the Peruvian setup, also stirred the pot prior to kick-off, saying:

“Against them we have to play our own game. I’ve already played against Alexis and (Eduardo) Vargas and they are not anything special.”

It was always going to be an uphill battle for The Incas, who last faced Chile in a Copa America semi-final way back in 1979, a two-legged tie that they lost 2-1 on aggregate, and, despite an encouraging start, things didn’t exactly go to plan here either.

Carlos Zambrano’s red card ensured this. An unnecessary high kick into Charles Aranguiz’s back garnered him a red, sending his team down to 10 men with 70 minutes still to play. They still showed plenty of fight, even equalising in the second half, but a wonder strike from Eduardo Vargas sealed their fate.

Chile were far from their swashbuckling best, looking nervy and anxious in possession at times, but one man who showed his class in possession was Alexis Sanchez. Although some mainstream media will have you read the Arsenal man wasn’t great on the night, his composure with the ball indicated just how much quality he possesses, while he also proved to the outspoken Juan Vargas that he is in fact something special.

All it took was barely over a minute for the 26-year-old to exert himself on the contest. A wicked 60-yard cross field pass to Mauricio Isla did so perfectly. It truly was a magical moment, and gave a fine demonstration of his sublime technical ability. Although he did give the ball away a couple of times, these occasions were aberrations not the norm.

In tight spaces and under pressure, his calmness was a real highlight. Never fazed by the heavy Peruvian pressure was Sanchez, as he remained very level-headed throughout, which was evidenced by the fact he was able to execute some brilliant through balls, one-touch passes and nifty flick-ons. The pass he supplied Jorge Valdivia on 28 minutes evidenced his coolness aptly. Here, despite having multiple opponents around him, he somehow managed to squeeze a precise pass into Jorge Valdivia’s path. Even though El Mago spurned the chance, the vision and guile Sanchez showed to instigate the chance was terrific.

Sharing a brilliant understanding with Valdivia and Vargas helps him out greatly, as the trio are just so used to playing alongside one another. They combined well once again against Peru to make life difficult for them, with their subtle interchanges of position and successful overloading of the right flank proving especially fruitful.

It came as no great surprise then that Chile’s opening goal arrived following some industrious work from the former Barcelona and Udinese man. In this instance, after Sanchez had neatly cut inside, he then fired a wicked cross right into the mixer, which eluded everyone, including the Peruvian keeper and Charles Aranguiz. As the ball drifted through the air it appeared destined for the back of the net, but it instead hit the back post and fell fortuitously into Eduardo Vargas’ path, who got just enough purchase on his effort for the ball to cross the line.

Sanchez’s customary tendency to drift infield proved hugely effective, for it allowed him to get into ideal positions to embark on those brilliantly timed forward runs he enjoys, plus it created space for his fullback to surge into, as Sanchez’s man, Luis Advincula, would follow him.

On a night where teammate Eduardo Vargas grabbed the headlines, Sanchez’s efforts still deserved recognition. His work both on and off the ball, in attack and defence, was once again first-rate, in a game where he showcased just how valuable he is to the structure of the Chilean side.

While Sanchez is admired so much for his physicality, technical quality and relentless effort, a somewhat overlooked aspect of his game can be how intelligent a footballer he is. In between the ears, he’s amazing.

Whether it be the immaculate timing of his runs, his movement (to create space for both himself and others) or his inherent ability to play passes many wouldn’t even attempt, Sanchez does it all. And that’s why he presents such a challenge to any opposition he faces. Put simply, he can hurt any side in a number of ways. Argentina will be very wary of his capabilities, in what looms as a fascinating final.

“I really see in Alexis as a much more mature and consolidated player, that knows he is one of the best in the world,” explained Sampaoli recently. “I also know he played a significant amount of minutes, he was not used to the continuity of English football. He makes an enormous effort in every training session and in every game. “It’s [the Premier League’s] fullness and its features today, gives us a much more consolidated Alexis Sanchez, and he gives us that, from every place.”

His manager’s comments point towards a man who has an incredible appetite for work and one who Sampaoli believes has blossomed beautifully during his time at Arsenal into the finished article.

Suspended colleague Gonzalo Jara also harbours a similarly fine opinion of the Chilean maestro.

“Yes, obviously, for us as a team the collective issue is fundamental, the quality he [Sanchez] has as a player, and the ease in which he can get rid of the defenders, is fundamental also, and the desire that has always put at the service of the team, and that is also essential,” Jara said.

Looking ahead to the final, Chile will be hoping their dynamo’s exploits, alongside Chile’s strong collective spirit, will be enough to propel them to their first ever Copa America crown.

It won’t be easy for Sampaoli’s men, but having a truly world-class player like Sanchez in their ranks will give them a tremendous chance of making history.

A pulsating contest on Saturday night in Santiago now beckons. Only time will tell what happens next.

Originally published at licencetoroam.net

Post written by Edward Stratmann
for Licence to Roam, Blog: licencetoroam.net, Twitter: @licencetoroam

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