Chile advance to Copa America final thanks to Eduardo Vargas' fine brace
SANTIAGO, Chile -- Three thoughts on Chile and Peru's Copa America semifinal, which the hosts won 2-1 thanks to two goals by Eduardo Vargas.
Chile will now face the winner of Tuesday's semifinal between Paraguay and Argentina.
1. Chile win, but debate will rage
Chile stride on, although with a stumble, and one brilliant strike.
At the very least, there was absolutely no doubt about Eduardo Vargas's wondrous winner.
The striker's sensational 65th-minute, long-range goal gave the 2015 Copa America hosts a 2-1 win over Peru to put them into Saturday's final -- their first since 1987 -- although debate will rage over so much that preceded it.
This match saw a contentious red card for Peru's Carlos Zambrano, but might have seen one another for the hugely fortunate Arturo Vidal, before Vargas scored the game's opening goal from an offside position.
That seemed insurmountable until Peru silenced the stadium by forcing Gary Medel into an own-goal at the hour mark.
It seemed as though the hosts might be stunned, only for Vargas to hit a stunning strike to win it. Left with a few yards of space just outside the Peruvian box, the forward drove a dipping shot over Pedro Gallese's head and into the far corner. It was his second of the game, and maybe second to none in this tournament in terms of the quality of the goals.
At the same time, this match probably needed such a clean moment. So much of it up until then had been so dirty, although the type of dirtiness depends on your point of view.
Vargas' goal may have decided the game but Zambrano's red card defined it, and conditioned it.
Up until then, an assertive Peru had been much the better team against an anxious Chile. Then, while on a second yellow card, Zambrano went to clear from what seemed an innocuous enough attack. He launched the ball into the air, but kept his leg high, only for it to come down on Charles Aranguiz's leg.
It might have been an accident, or it might have been an intentional stamp. The way Zambrano had his body and Aranguiz was coming indicated the former, but a replay of the movement of the defender's foot -- not to mention his appalling disciplinary record in the Bundesliga for Eintracht Frankfurt -- pointed to the latter. Referee Jose Argote was in no doubt, and issued a straight red card, not even a second yellow.
Vidal might have received a straight red himself for a visible, if light, slap on Zambrano's face.
Either way, the red card removed Peru's vigour, and finally calmed Chile enough to get a foothold in their own stadium.
From there, the excellent Alexis Sanchez curled in a cross off the post from which Vargas eventually scored the contentious first goal.
The same player then had a second-half strike wrongly ruled out for offside shortly before Peru's equaliser -- but eventually got his second.
Chile are now one match away from their first ever trophy.
2. Anxiety riddles hosts
Whether they can win that trophy, this match raised as many questions about their performance as it did the refereeing. This was probably Chile's weakest display of the campaign.
There was little of the lively football of the comfortable wins over Ecuador or Bolivia in the group stage, nor even the aggression and resilience of the earthier elimination of Uruguay in the quarterfinals.
By contrast, they often looked more callow, more panicked. They made a lot of poor decisions in possession in the first half, and it was often as if the occasion, and opportunity to make history, was getting to them.
Only Sanchez looked anyway comfortable on the ball, and only individual incidents such as the Zambrano red card and Vargas' wonder-goal seemed to sufficiently calm the team.
They have never looked so nervy.
Then again, an element of that might have been inevitable. After all the anxiety of the Uruguay game, and all the emotional effort it was going to take to get past that, a drop was perhaps someway unavoidable.
They just badly need to raise themselves again, especially if -- as expected -- they will meet Argentina in the final.
It's time for Chile to offer the most important answer of all, to end over a century of waiting. You could sense the relief here at the final whistle. Now they need the ultimate release in the final.
3. What might have been for Peru
The lasting question for Peru, and perhaps for Zambrano, is what might have been. Because, for 20 minutes of this semifinal, they were by far the better team.
There was no fear about their play, nor trepidation about the fact they were away. By contrast, they were much braver than Chile, and performing with none of the evident hesitation or anxiety of the hosts.
Every break at pace required a desperate Chilean challenge, every set-piece caused panic.
Jefferson Farfan headed onto the post with the first big chance of the game, and then forced Medel into a big sliding challenge just as the forward looked like he was going to slip inside.
Moments later, Carlos Lobaton saw a long-range drive deflected onto the post, and it looked like the pressure was going to tell.
It did, although it's still hard to say whether it ultimately had more of an effect on referee Argote or Zambrano. Maybe both.
Either way, the 20th-minute red card totally took away Peru's initiative -- and superiority. It also took away their best player, as manager Ricardo Gareca felt he had to take off Christian Cueva in order to restore defensive balance to the team.
That killed Peru's momentum, but it didn't kill their spirit. They still showed admirable resolve to equalise, as Medel was panicked into directing Farfan's cross into his own net. Yet it still wasn't going to be enough.
With just 10 men, there was always going to be too much space to cover, always too much speed in a lightning Chilean side.
Peru, however, admirably kept pace for so long. Had the game, or Zambrano, gone a different way, they might even have beaten the hosts to the final.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.