Chile – Peru: Off-The-Pace Chile Left Licking Their Wounds After Disastrous Start (0-3)

Peru out-pressed Chile, and that was the key difference in this dramatic Copa América semi-final. The edge the Peruvians gained from being that bit tighter to their opposition enabled them to manipulate the ball at the cost of the Chile defense. How Peru managed to hold on for the next hour would, however, be a different task entirely, a test they passed with flying colors. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M

Chile were only two matches away from becoming the first nation to ever win the Copa América on three successive occasions, whereas Peru were looking to build on their steady run of Copa finishes, which coincided with some impressive displays at the 2018 World Cup. Both teams progressed to the semi-finals by winning a penalty shootout, after being outplayed in regular time, by Colombia and Uruguay respectively. 

Even though some changes would have been warranted, considering the level of play both teams showed in the quarter-final, both managers decided to stick with the same eleven players. For Reinaldo Rueda and Chile, this meant a front three of José Fuenzalida, Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sánchez kept their spots up front, in the same 4-3-3 formation Chile have been playing in all tournament long. Peru coach Ricardo Gareca also named an unchanged eleven, but tweaked the system just a little, going for a 4-2-3-1 setup instead of his previous 4-3-3 layout.

Frenetic beginning works in Peru’s favor

The midfield battles were intense and provided convincing evidence that Chile were a little bit behind in their defensive schemes comparatively. In contrast, Peru were remarkably aggressive and practically latched onto every opponent, giving them the early upper hand. Unlike Peru’s midfield, Chile midfielders Charles Aránguiz and Arturo Vidal were affording their opposite numbers a costly yard of space. Consequently, Peru had no problems accessing the narrowed attackers ahead of them. Chile’s defense could not get close to the wide midfielders’ dropping movements, either, and, if they did, the ball could be spun around the corner into a further isolated defensive situation.

By the second minute, Peru had already exploited this to perfection. All it took was one duel in midfield being won for the pitch to open up – as proved to be the case throughout the match. With his opposite number Vidal not so tight to him, Renato Tapia managed to evade the pressure to then find André Carillo – one of the wide-midfielders. The channels of Chile’s very high defensive line were then victim to Carillo’s time and space on the ball. He fed through a great ball to find Paolo Guerrero, who had the presence of mind to cut it across for his teammate Christian Cueva. His effort was unfortunately dragged wide of the near post.

Peru’s attacking setup for the chance. Yes… Chile were that open.

Decisive midfield battles were on show again for Chile’s retort, as we got a glimpse into their buildup mechanisms just a few minutes later. 

They were struggling to cope with the press, to the extent where they almost had no answers. The midfield trio were far too narrow and flat when the center-backs had the ball. With the forwards being tightly marked as well, the Peruvian midfield line could afford to leave gaps in the halfspaces If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. of their midfield line to get closer to their opponents. 

Chile, in their attempts to progress, often used direct balls to find the forwards. They also tried to use Aránguiz to overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. the ball-side. In tandem with the attackers dropping into midfield – which they did a lot throughout – Aránguiz would then push on behind the left-sided central-midfielder to fill the gap between the lines. However, Chile usually failed to accurately access him.

In any case, this chance in particular stemmed from their second direct ball of the game into Vargas. He held the ball up and played it inside where we then witnessed another crucial midfield duel. The Chileans came out on top this time and shifted it quickly from right-to-left where Alexis played in Beausejour’s overlapping When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. run. He cut it back to Aránguiz but the midfielder squandered a fantastic opportunity. 

It was clear however that the idea to use the midfielders as a key box threat was how Chile wanted to go about their business, though. 

Peruvian dominance pays off

The theme of crucial one-versus-one duels continued, here, as Peru imposed themselves on Chile further, winning nearly each and every duel. 

In the twentieth minute, when Edison Flores got the better of Gary Medel, he found himself in behind the defense. He drove into the box but dragged a deflected effort wide of the far-post. However, he, and Peru, got their reward just a minute later.

Off the back of the resulting corner, Peru worked it back out wide for a second crossing attempt. With Chile’s defense once again at sixes and sevens, both center-backs were beaten to the aerial ball by Carillo, whose flick fell to Flores at the back-post. This time, he had no problem finding the far corner.

Chile’s response unthreatening

Once Peru had settled down, we began to see Chile possess the ball with greater ease, but still without much sight of goal. The attacking shape began to remodel itself.

Now camped in Peru’s half, Alexis and Vargas persisted to drop deep and receive just in front of their defensive teammates, whilst Vidal and Aránguiz pushed on in support of the box attacks. A little unorthodox, it must be said, however, it was understandable given Alexis’ skill set especially. He was the main provider of Chile’s key switches of play. 

Alexis’ side had started to find some joy through the fullbacks. With such a narrow defensive shape, quick switches into the acting wide men were proving lethal and creating numerous opportunities to get crosses into the box. 

The problem was that their deliveries were angled straight on and high in the air, when their personnel could not capitalize on these sorts of crosses. They needed more cutbacks to succeed. By the end of the match, Chile had only created one chance from crosses that were not cutbacks. 

Before Chile could even muster a chance from this hopeful strategy of theirs, Peru were at the double. The simplest of attacks got them a second goal. A deep free kick pumped down the wing to Carillo went unnoticed. Goalkeeper Gabriel Arias then panicked and rushed out of goal. Carillo rounded Arias and floated it back to the edge of the box, where Yoshimar Yotún coolly chested it down and guided it into the empty net.

Peru invite pressure and defend well

Gareca’s response was to simply accept the wave of Chilean pressure by having the wide midfielders drop into wing-back positions, thus creating a 6-3-1 shape, something that was very effective. Alexis and co. did not know what to do with the ball outside of shifting to horizontally in front of Peru’s midfield. Their attempts to instead force their way through the middle bared no success, either. The defensive 4-3 structure in the middle collapsed on the player on the ball in a moment’s notice, suffocating all attempts to combine through this area of the pitch.

Peru’s defensive 6-3-1 formation blocking out Chile.

Chile tried to make the most of what they could, yet they had just two more occasions where they found access. The best of these resulting in a cutback which was headed straight at Gallese by Vidal.

The best chance Chile had was gifted to them off the back of a set piece, where Miguel Trauco scuffed a simple pass back to a teammate on the halfway line. Three Chilean attackers pounced with Vargas being slid through on goal. And, predictably, he did not have the composure necessary to bring his side back into the game with just fifteen minutes remaining.

Stoppage time sadness for Chile

Peru ended off the tie in style. For a minute or two before the stoppage time, they pinged it around with ease. Chile could not get near them. One-touch, two-touch play, and all of it led to a classy third goal netted by Guerrero. Once they had created an opening in the middle, Guerrero easily exploited the woefully disorganized Chilean backline to run through on goal and slot it past Arias.

To round things off, Vargas then had a Panenka attempt from the penalty spot saved.


This was a remarkable display from a Peruvian side that crawled out of the group phase and quarter-finals, to pull themselves together and put in a display deserving of a semi-final team. They now enter their first final in twenty-four years, which was also the last time they won the competition.

Rueda’s Chile simply could not handle the tactical alterations Gareca made and the pressure they came under. It all seemed to have a lasting effect on them, too, as they never looked the same in front of goal. They were well and truly outclassed, from all points of view.

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Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


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