Juan Carlos Osorio's tinkering with Mexico fails as Chile find their feet
In a warm-up friendly just before the Copa America Centenario -- it seems a long time ago now -- Mexico beat Chile by a single goal.
But maybe the seeds of the extraordinary rout at Santa Clara were sown there? That 1-0 scoreline did not really reflect the balance of play. In the first half, especially, Chile could have scored plenty of their own. So there was plenty for Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio to think about as he contemplated meeting Chile for a second time -- no longer a friendly, but now with a place in the Copa semifinals at stake.
Moreover, it was not the same Chile his side would be facing. Tournaments are like time speeded up. During the course of a few weeks teams can suddenly come together or fall apart. The Chile that Mexico beat in that friendly had just lost at home to Jamaica. They then made it three defeats in a row when they went down 2-1 to Argentina in the opening game. And Chile then needed a controversial 99th-minute penalty to seal a win over Bolivia when they gave a desperately disappointing performance.
Perhaps, like the United States, Chile have benefited from getting off to a bad start. It has concentrated the mind. They were already a different team in the third game against Panama. The two star players, Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, were now pulling in the same direction. And so the chances started to appear for striker Eduardo Vargas.
The only negative mark on the display against Panama was the worrying form of goalkeeper and captain Claudio Bravo. This was not an issue in the quarterfinal -- for the very good reason that the Mexicans never got close enough to test the Chilean keeper.
Osorio admitted after the game that he got his selection and strategy wildly wrong. There is always an inherent danger in the way that he lines up his sides. He loves to attack down the flanks, to launch long diagonal transitions to his wingers. It is a way of playing that makes the pitch big -- and which can open up space for the opposition when the move breaks down.
In his normal system he would try to keep the defence compact: Three centre-backs and a holding midfielder in front of them, who formed the base of a midfield diamond. For Saturday's quarterfinal, concerned at the number of men that Chile would throw forward, he sought to give himself some extra protection by withdrawing another player to the defensive line to form a conventional back four.
In front of them, Jesus Duenas was supposed to hold the fort. During the match, though, there was far too much space between Duenas and the two midfielders ahead and either side of him, Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera. Instead of a compact midfield triangle, they were too far apart, and thus unable to stop the Chile attacks at the source.
Once Chile had crashed through, having an extra defender proved no advantage. For both first half goals almost the entire defence rushed to try and close down Alexis Sanchez. They had played themselves out of the game when Sanchez moved the ball to unmarked teammates who made full use of the space they had been given.
And at half-time, when Osorio took off Duenas and left himself without a holding midfielder, the match turned into a rout. In the first 11 minutes of the second half Chile added three more goals to take an unassailable 5-0 lead. By this stage Mexico had been reduced to a rabble.
But the Mexican miscalculations take nothing away from an extraordinary, exhilarating Chilean achievement. Everything was stacked against the Chileans. They were facing an opponent whose itinerary had been highly favourable. Chile, meanwhile, had been bouncing around from coast to coast.
The Chileans were effectively the away side, and yet they came out and blew El Tri away.
It was a magnificent performance, one which underlines the fact that Chile are the reigning South American champions, and very firmly declares that they aim to stay that way.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.