KAZAN, Russia – Chile’s biggest asset at the Confederations Cup isn’t the dazzling attacking skill of Alexis Sanchez, or even Arturo Vidal’s creativity.
It’s down-to-earth goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who saves Chile when its hyper-aggressive pressing is no use at all — at the penalty spot.
Recently recovered from injury, ridiculed by some fans in England following an erratic season at Manchester City, the 34-year-old was imperious in Wednesday’s penalty shootout win over Portugal, stopping every shot he faced. He also made a key stop early in the game, which finished 0-0 after extra time.
Bravo isn’t charismatic — he talked calmly of feeling “very balanced” after making the three saves that sent Chile to the Confederations Cup final. But he is the perfect symbol for a Chilean team which, despite its reputation for a swashbuckling attacking style, is happy to grind out wins when the pressure’s on.
For three years in a row now, Chile has specialized in tough, gritty wins over soccer’s superstars.
This time, it was Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, but in 2015 and 2016 it was Lionel Messi and Argentina who fell to Chile on penalties in consecutive Copa America finals, both after goalless draws. Those are the only major trophies Chile has ever won.
Chile’s style is still based on the aggressive approach of Marcelo Bielsa, who coached the team between 2007 and 2011, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for recklessness.
“We were playing with our head as well as our heart,” Bravo said, and coach Juan Antonio Pizzi elaborated on the meticulous video research while allowed Bravo to predict where Portugal’s penalties would go.
“You never know exactly what is going to happen, but you can prepare,” Pizzi said. “Our goalkeeper could foresee what was going to happen and what the player was going to do.”
Chile can win in style as a 7-0 demolition of Mexico last year showed, but its heavy emphasis on constant high pressing can produce a stalemate. The Chileans tired themselves out against Portugal — easy to do when it’s your fourth game in 12 days — but the constant pressure also forced Portugal to tire, slowing the pace of much of the second half and extra time.
For Bravo, though, the key is rock-solid self-belief ahead of a final Sunday against either Germany or Mexico.
“The secret of our success is that we’re very constant,” he said. “We never stop believing in ourselves and we want to do everything we can to win.”