Low's youthful Germany overcome Chile to win Confederations Cup
ST PETERSBURG, Russia -- Three quick thoughts from Germany's 1-0 win over Chile in the Confederations Cup final on Sunday at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.
1. Germany win Confederations Cup
If Germany retain the World Cup next year, then perhaps this was the night that laid the groundwork. Chile will ask themselves how they lost this Confederations Cup final after they missed a number of chances and let Lars Stindl score the winning goal after a defensive slip. But it was a triumphant night for Germany manager Joachim Low and a group of players he opted to give a test run this summer ahead of the bigger World Cup challenge in 2018; he now has 11 months to sift through a more battle-hardened set of options than any other international coach has at his disposal.
Chile started at a ferocious tempo and carved Germany open within five minutes. Excellent work from Arturo Vidal freed Charles Aranguiz, but as the midfielder poised to pull the trigger, Antonio Rudiger executed a perfect tackle. The ball stayed alive, and Vidal's low drive was kept out by the legs of Germany keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Chile's early onslaught continued, with Vidal and Eduardo Vargas both trying their luck. It was near-incessant pressure, and in the 19th minute Alexis Sanchez missed a glorious chance. He seemed certain to convert after Ter Stegen parried from Vidal, but Sanchez perhaps took his eye off the ball and failed to make a clean contact.
Within seconds, Sanchez was made to pay. Germany had barely laid a glove on Chile but took the lead with a gift of a goal. Germany's Timo Werner robbed Marcelo Diaz of possession just outside his own box and squared to Stindl for the simplest of tap-ins; nobody could say this turn of events had seemed remotely likely.
It was a shock to Chile; they began to huff and puff, and Leon Goretzka might twice have extended Germany's lead before half-time. First, the in-form Schalke player fired across goal from Sebastian Rudy's smart pass, and then was denied well by Chile keeper Claudio Bravo after Julian Draxler had capitalised on another lapse.
Draxler threatened 10 minutes into the second half, surging through before a lunging Gonzalo Jara deflected Draxler's shot wide, and Germany looked more than capable of picking off their older opponents on the counterattack. Chile were becoming fractious and Jara received a let-off when, after appearing to elbow Werner, a lengthy video assistant referee (VAR) review led to nothing more than a yellow card.
Tempers raised even further when, 15 minutes from time, Sanchez went down in the box after colliding with Rudy. Vidal shot over from the loose ball, but Chile's players furiously claimed a penalty and urged referee Milorad Mazic to review using the VAR. To their disgust, he failed to oblige, although more conventional replays suggested Sanchez did not have a case.
Chile rallied for one last push as Ter Stegen tipped wide from Aranguiz, and then they missed their final big chance. Substitute Angelo Sagal had a gaping net to fire into when fellow replacement Edson Puch squared past a committed Ter Stegen, but Sagal blazed his shot over the crossbar -- and with that wayward finish went his side's hopes.
2. Vidal can't drag Chile to victory
At times, Vidal seemed to be on a one-man mission to win this Confederations Cup final. The very sight of him singing out his country's national anthem before the match lent that impression, and the manner with which he hurled himself at Germany from the first whistle suggested he was desperate to get the job done quickly. The rest of his teammates came with him, as they so often do, but Chile missed out on a title they should probably have won and must be wondering how a game they seemed to have in their grasp was allowed to slip.
One obvious answer is that Diaz's error took the wind out of their sails after a start that saw Vidal pepper the Germany goal from various angles and Sanchez miss the kind of opportunity he usually converts at will. But an additional reading would be that Chile committed too much, too early.
A 120-minute-long semifinal against Portugal was a sapping experience, and Chile lacked some of their usual zip at times earlier in the tournament. The first 20 minutes here were played at a breathtaking pace, but Chile are getting no younger, and by the time they mustered up something approaching that tempo for a second time in a frantic last quarter-hour, Germany was able to play out more than 50 minutes of time with relatively little alarm.
Yet Chile still created enough chances to win this game, and an equally big concern before the World Cup -- assuming they qualify -- might be their profligacy. Beyond Sanchez, there is no especially reliable source of goals; at times it seems that he and Vidal are carrying Chile forward through sheer force of will, but this result, and even the blank they drew in open play against Portugal, suggests they need more quality in depth.
They will still have Vidal next year, and they will still have the snap and snarl that threatened to boil over more than once in the second half. But time is running out if they are to follow up their two Copa America titles with something even more special.
3. Low enjoys the perfect fortnight
This tournament panned out better than Germany and Low could have dared hope. Selecting a second-string squad could have gone one of two ways: They could have wilted against more practiced opponents and been accused of disrespecting the competition, or they could have silenced the doubters by proving that the talent pool at their disposal is second to no other nation in the world.
The latter proved true, and perhaps the most impressive thing in this final was the way Low's young players composed themselves after such a rocky start. It did not bode well when Goretzka, their semifinal hero against Mexico, stumbled in possession and gave Vargas a decent shooting opportunity that Ter Stegen saved; early on Germany appeared nervy and uncertain, struggling to cope physically with the Chileans and failing to manoeuvre the ball quickly enough.
In a noisy stadium whose support was heavily weighted in Chile's favour, there would have been an excuse for Germany to crumble, but after Stindl's goal they looked to be the slicker, fitter side for long periods until Chile threw the kitchen sink at them late on. Germany's three-man central defence looked composed. Rudiger was particularly impressive in the challenge and on the ball, while Draxler and Werner were mobile outlets as they broke quickly.
By the end, Germany were riding their luck in a similar manner to the first 20 minutes. But, again, in hindsight Low might not have had this any other way. His players came through an intense, simmering final against a side whose vigour has been virtually unmatched in the last five years; few national sides composed of fringe players are given the opportunity of a challenge like this, and the fact that Germany rose to it suggests they are on course to rule the football world once again.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.