Chile's high-energy tactics work, but do they have the legs to keep going?
Reigning world champions Germany can afford to play fast and loose with the Confederations Cup. Their first-team players are already overflowing with big-match experience; why tire them out with an end-of-season tournament? Better to give them a break and use the competition to build for the long term.
Chile have come to Russia with a different approach. Two years ago they had yet to win any serious silverware. Then came the 2015 Copa America on home soil, followed by the Copa Centenario in the U.S. a year later. This summer in Russia, then, is a chance to make a statement on a global stage: They're no longer plucky outsiders, as they were in the past two World Cups, but deserve to be taken seriously as reigning South American champions.
All of the above explains why the game against Germany -- even against an experimental German side -- was so important to the Chileans. They have never before had a chance to take on the world champions from their new position as CONMEBOL's top dogs; Thursday's 1-1 draw showed they were eager to both test themselves and enjoy the moment.
Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi gave himself some extra cover with the inclusion of midfielder Pablo Hernandez. but this was a case of changing in order to remain the same. The presence of Hernandez alongside Marcelo Diaz allowed the Chileans to play their normal game, throwing forward both full-backs at the same time. The key idea is to have numbers in the opposition's half; it gives Chile's man on the ball quick options when the team is in possession, but can also put the other side under relentless pressure whenever Pizzi's side don't have the ball.
This strategy paid quick dividends against the Germans. Chile's pressing forced an early German mistake and after a neat exchange with Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez was through on goal -- for the second time in the first five minutes -- to score a goal in off the near post and become Chile's all-time top scorer. A few minutes later, the crossbar was less kind to Eduardo Vargas; his shot from the edge of the area came down off the bar but bounced on the wrong side of the line. Unfortunately, their exhilarating start did not bring them a second goal.
Chile's style of play can be as exhausting as it is bold. The relentless pressing is tiring and this team is ageing. The heart of the side came through the 2007 U-20 World Cup; those key players are now reaching the veteran stage and this is their fourth consecutive tournament at the end of a grueling domestic season. There could be a price to pay for this next year, when it really matters
There was certainly a price to pay toward the end of the first half. As the intensity of Chile's pressing dropped off, the team became stretched out. Emre Can was given acres of space in which to advance and played a pass out left to Jonas Hector, whose low ball behind the Chilean defence was turned in by Lars Stindl.
The tone of the game changed after the interval. Chile had their moments but with Germany enjoying more possession, they came from sporadic breakouts rather than emerging as the product of a persistent pressure. Chile's front players were forced to work back and help out in defence, with the game petering out into a draw.
Coach Pizzi may have cause to reflect that the result has long- and short-term consequences. The immediate question is that his side have not yet booked their semifinal place and so face a crunch game against Australia on Sunday. Looking beyond the current competition, he is surely aware that Chile have taken the lead in all four of the games they've played in this European adventure -- a pair of warm-up friendlies against Russia and Romania as well as the matches against Cameroon and Germany -- but can only look back at one victory.
As he builds toward next year's World Cup, which will surely be the swan song at the highest level for Chile's golden generation, two questions may well be costing him some sleep. Will his ageing team be able to last the full 90 minutes? And how can he ensure that they turn first-half superiority into more goals?
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.