Claudio Bravo rises to the occasion in Chile's heroic semifinal win vs Portugal
KAZAN, Russia -- Claudio Bravo stood under the Kazan lights and gazed at Ricardo Quaresma, taking the longest walk you can possibly take on a football pitch: from the halfway line, enveloped in the embrace of your teammates, to the solitude of the penalty spot, with only a ball and your thoughts for company.
Moments earlier, Arturo Vidal had slammed the ball past Rui Patricio to give Chile the lead, celebrating with a fist pump and a glance at his yellow-clad teammate who stood off to the side of the goal.
This was a time to be strong.
Stronger than the VAR that had gone AWOL when it came to telling referee Alireza Faghani that yes, he really ought to have awarded a penalty when Jose Fonte felled Francisco Silva in the box just a few minutes earlier.
Stronger than the nightmare season he endured at Manchester City, where he arrived as Pep Guardiola's hand-picked replacement for Joe Hart only to find himself dropped after a string of poor performances and ridicule from the English media, starting only three of his team's last 16 games.
Stronger than the knowledge that next season doesn't bode too well either given that in less than 72 hours, Benfica's Ederson officially becomes his teammate at City. And he'll do so for a world record fee. People telling you they have confidence in your ability is one thing but actions speak louder than words.
Stronger than the injury that had caused him to miss all but Chile's last group game as well as their pre-Confederations Cup warm-up games. In fact, this was only his second match of any kind in the previous two months.
Bravo cocked his head, squared his shoulders and saved Quaresma's spot kick. Still, 1-0. Then, after Charles Aranguiz had buried his, he snuffed out Joao Moutinho's effort. 2-0. Alexis Sanchez converted his penalty to put Chile on the brink, 3-0, and Bravo did the rest by saving his third penalty, this time from Nani.
Game over. La Roja in the Confederations Cup final, 90 minutes away from a three-peat in major tournaments after their back-to-back Copa America wins.
He got up and ran toward the corner flag, the same one where he had patiently waited for the sequence to begin. For a moment, he looked a lot like the Rocky statue on the Art Museum steps in Philadelphia. Only for a moment, though, because he was quickly swallowed up by the throng of his teammates, who then hoisted him up into the air.
Football works in mysterious ways. If he ever bumps into Helmuth Duckadam, the two will have something to talk about.
The old sporting trope is that the number of times you fall is irrelevant as long as it's less than the number of times you get back up. When you're a keeper though, it's different. It's that much harder to get back up for the simple reason that you often can't get back in.
That's why this Confederations Cup meant so much to Bravo. He was Chile's captain and undisputed number one yet that cruel, persistent calf injury jeopardized his chance at getting back in, let alone getting back up.
After the game, Bravo betrayed no emotion.
"How do I feel?" he said. "Like I always do. ... I'm a very balanced person."
But what about the injury? What about his Premier League horror show? What about Ederson?
"I was injured, I didn't play and when I did, I didn't perform at the level to which I'm accustomed," he shrugged. "But I normally take things calmly and quietly. Like I said, I'm balanced."
Balanced and ice cool. Like the iceberg that sunk Portugal's Titanic, with Cristiano Ronaldo in Leonardo Di Caprio's Jack Dawson role.
A long-standing football truism holds that penalty shootouts are lotteries, that penalties can't be neutralized by keepers -- they can only be missed by attackers. Books have been written to dispute this. Bravo's boss Juan Antonio Pizzi is in the latter camp.
"It's true that luck is involved in taking penalties, but I wouldn't say it's only about luck," he said. "You can prepare and you can study and you can improve your chances."
Penalties are luck in the same way casino slot machines are luck. The house does have an edge, but if you out-prepare and out-analyze your opponents, you become the house. You get that sliver of an edge that can shift the odds.
"[Bravo] had analyzed his opponents very well," Pizzi said. "Those who take penalties can be studied because you can see them with their country and their club. Claudio was prepared: he was able to predict what was going to happen. And he had the personality and mental strength to make it count."
There will be time for him to reflect on what happens next. Time to figure out whether he gets to take a mulligan with City and show the Premier League who he really is. Time to fully heal his calf muscles, which are as important to a keeper as finger tips are to a pianist.
But all that seems terribly remote right now. All that matters, all that's in front of the Chilean Iceberg is Sunday's final and a date with either Germany or Mexico.
Tell it softly to the iceberg: Three-peat ahead. Sink Germany or Mexico, whichever one Thursday night throws into your path, and it's yours.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.