Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo emerging at right time in Copa America
CHICAGO -- The 2016 Copa America Centenario has been Claudio Bravo's personal Theater of the Bizarre.
Bravo, he of the Barcelona pedigree, has let in goals during this tournament that in some cases have been softer than a pillow. His near post has been especially vulnerable, and Chile manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has more than once had to defend his decision to keep Bravo in the starting lineup. All the while, his teammates have been banging in goals, making Bravo look even more like the weakest link.
So it was perhaps fitting that on the weirdest night of the tournament -- in which weather played a major part -- Bravo recaptured his best form to help La Roja to a 2-0 win over Colombia that puts Chile in its second consecutive Copa America final. La Roja will face Argentina on Sunday in a repeat of the 2015 final.
Given Bravo's experience, it's not surprising that he would emerge from his funk. But slumps aren't subject to a schedule, so for La Roja, his resurgence is good news indeed.
"[Bravo is] a top level player," said Jose Fuenzalida, scorer of Chile's second goal, through an interpreter. "He had some games that weren't as good but he's a leader on and off the field. For us he is fundamental. I'm happy for him because today he had a great game and he is an important player that we need."
The first half was typical enough. Chile delivered a quick one-two punch to put itself on top through goals by Charles Aranguiz and Fuenzalida. But then Colombia showed its quality, and with Chile missing usual starters Arturo Vidal and Marcelo Diaz in midfield, Bravo was put to the test.
Bravo parried away a low shot from Roger Martinez in the 23rd minute, and then got a hand to Santiago Arias' effort 10 minutes later. Just before halftime, he diverted Carlos Sanchez's dipping drive wide of goal.
At that point the match took an odd turn. With thunderstorms plowing through the Chicago area, there was a weather delay of more than two hours that forced fans to seek shelter and created the longest halftime in recent memory.
"[The break] was very uncomfortable," Pizzi said through an interpreter. "For almost three hours, to be locked inside without being able to do anything is very tiring. We thought about a lot of things, all the possibilities that were ahead. It was really very exhausting."
That led to more than a few fans -- no doubt fueled by some liquid courage -- to invade the field at various points and send stadium security on a few Keystone Kops-like pursuits.
The fans weren't the only ones losing their heads, either. Twelve minutes after play resumed, Colombia's Sanchez was sent off for picking up his second yellow card. Chile, meanwhile, kept its composure -- thanks in part to Bravo.
"Claudio is a leader, a captain," Pizzi said. "In addition to that, speaking in terms of soccer, he has a lot of personality to bring everyone back to earth when we have difficulty."
That trait is needed in good times as well, though it's unlikely anyone in the Chilean camp will be taking Argentina lightly. La Albiceleste disposed of Chile 2-1 in the opening match of the tournament for both teams. In that game, a failure to protect his near post saw Bravo concede the opening goal of that match to Angel Di Maria.
But Chile has gotten better as the tournament has gone on, as has Bravo. If he can repeat Wednesday's performance, then La Roja may indeed emerge from this Copa America as champions once again.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.