Eduardo Vargas' four goals set Chile up for stunning 7-0 win vs Mexico
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Chile booked a place in the Copa America Centenario semifinals with a 7-0 thumping of Mexico. Eduardo Vargas scored four goals, while Edson Puch scored twice. Alexis Sanchez did his bit as well, by scoring one goal and adding two assists.
Here are three thoughts on a stunning night.
1. Chile's change of pace proves too much for El Tri
Chile has long been known for its pressing style, but against Mexico, it wasn't just the habit of defending high up the field that upset El Tri. The attack went from standing still to warp speed. Whenever Chile won the ball in its own half, it looked to exploit Mexico's high line. An Arturo Vidal long ball found Edson Puch in the clear in the 10th minute, and only a fantastic desperation tackle from Nestor Araujo saved the day.
Chile's ability to switch the point of attack with long passes also proved troublesome, especially when it resulted in attacking Mexico's left flank that was defended by attack-minded full-back Miguel Layun.
Of course, it helps to have a star such as Alexis Sanchez on your team as well, and he proved instrumental in orchestrating both of Chile's first-half goals. His diagonal run into the space behind Layun saw him collect Gary Medel's pass. For a moment, the danger seemed to be averted, but Sanchez picked out the late-arriving Marcelo Diaz. His shot was saved by Mexico goalkeeper Memo Ochoa, but Puch was on hand to slot home the rebound.
If that first goal was born of clever movement, Sanchez simply lulled Mexico to sleep on the second. He appeared to be contained deep on the left wing, as Araujo slid across to provide cover. That created more space in the middle, and Sanchez's pass picked out Vargas, who evaded Hector Moreno and smashed the ball beyond Ochoa to put Chile up 2-0.
Any hopes that Mexico would get back in the game were quickly dashed just minutes into the second half, thanks to Chile's press ways and lethal ability to exploit the space behind Mexico's back line. El Tri tried to play the ball out, but Sanchez picked the pocket of Hector Herrera and played Vidal in, and his return feed was slotted home by Sanchez. Then just three minutes later, a clever touch from Sanchez put Vargas in alone, and he fired home to make it 4-0.
Vargas completed his hat trick in the 57th minute by taking a feed from Jean Beausejour and firing home to make it 5-0. Vargas' fourth on the night, in the 74th minute from a goalmouth scramble, was thought to be the coup de grace, but Puch added his second to provide the final scoreline.
All told, it was a night to remember for La Roja.
2. Forget disappointment -- this was humiliation
Knockout round games have historically been unkind to El Tri, especially in the World Cup, but this match proved to be its own special kind of torture. It's one thing to lose and quite another to be humiliated in front of a distinctly pro-Mexico crowd of 70,547 at Levi's Stadium. Manager Juan Carlos Osorio, who has a well-earned reputation for tinkering, left himself open to plenty of second-guessing with some of his lineup choices.
In particular, Osorio's choice of Jesus Dueñas in a holding midfield role was a head-scratcher when it was expected that Rafa Marquez or Jesus Molina would see the field. Perhaps Osorio was counting on Dueñas' athleticism to help provide cover for Herrera and Andres Guardado, but it didn't work in any way shape or form.
But it would be unfair to pin the result entirely on Dueñas, who was substituted at halftime for the more offensive-minded Carlos Peña. Mexico's other midfield pieces simply wilted under Chile's relentless pressure, as evidenced by Herrera getting dispossessed in the buildup to Chile's third goal. It couldn't get near La Roja's midfield when defending either.
It must be said that the defensive warning signs have been there throughout the tournament for El Tri. They gave up some glorious chances in the 2-0 win against Jamaica and didn't get punished. It can be argued that this was simply a case of a better team finally punishing Mexico for its defensive frailties, but it looked like El Tri, and Osorio, had little idea of what was coming.
The Osorio honeymoon is now over. The question now is whether he can survive this result.
3. Loss of Vidal in semi looms large
The margin of victory was more than Chile could have imagined heading into the match, but it did come at a price. All-everything midfielder Arturo Vidal received his second booking of the tournament for a foul on Dueñas in the 38th minute and will miss the semifinal against Colombia. Vidal knew it too; he lay on the ground for some time before referee Héber Lopes brandished the yellow card.
Vidal's midfield compatriot, Diaz, was forced off in the 57th minute with an injury, and it remains to be seen just how serious it is. The task of playing Colombia without Vidal is already a huge obstacle, but if Chile is forced to play without both players, La Roja's odds of reaching its second consecutive Copa America final will be long indeed.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.