Confederations Cup final: Chile's experience to beat Germany youth
World Cup winners Germany will meet Copa America champions Chile in the final of the Confederations Cup in Russia on Sunday. But who will come out on top? Here is a breakdown of the two teams.
It has been a tough few months for Claudio Bravo at Manchester City but he has not let it get to him and those three penalty shootout saves against Portugal in the semifinals were evidence of his ability to be decisive at this level -- even if none of the spot kicks were of a high quality. Bravo also saved well from Andre Silva early in the game and has generally looked commanding throughout the Confederations Cup, although one errant kick against Australia started the move that allowed them to take the lead in the group stages. Germany will also look to turn his attempts to build from the back to their advantage.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen did not start this tournament well, erring badly against Australia, but was singled out for praise by his manager, Joachim Low, after the semifinal win over Mexico. "Marc made some wonderful saves," Low said after the Barcelona goalkeeper helped keep their lead intact, although there is a sense that he is not invulnerable to errors when put under pressure.
Chile have looked solid during this tournament and were particularly impressive in limiting the number of chances afforded to Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Gary Medel will probably partner Gonzalo Jara at centre-back in the final as they look to repeat the trick, with Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla playing as attack-minded full-backs. All four are vastly experienced -- and all bar Isla have played in the Premier League -- although it would be a stretch to describe any of them as top-class defenders and Germany may yet feel they can ask questions of them.
Germany's back three, which they adopted after the win over Australia, appears to suit them and the likes of Antonio Rudiger and Matthias Ginter have looked comfortable. Joshua Kimmich should retain his place although Niklas Sule and Shkodran Mustafi -- the latter's error let Arsenal clubmate Alexis Sanchez in to score for Chile when the teams met in the group stage -- are alternatives. It is an area where Germany do not have one especially commanding presence but they do have plenty of adaptability and composure. This is shown by the fact Kimmich played at right wing-back earlier in the tournament; Benjamin Henrichs did well there against Mexico and Jonas Hector will charge forward on the other side.
Arturo Vidal is the beating heart of Chile's side and the sight of him steaming into tackles during extra-time against Portugal was a reminder that he is a competitor who will keep going until the end. He also converted his penalty emphatically and said afterwards that "unity, commitment and good old Chilean heart" were the key components of Chile's success. Vidal embodies all of that and is ably assisted by Charles Aranguiz, Marcelo Diaz and Pablo Hernandez. They will likely form a diamond that, as with other areas of the Chile team, is hugely experienced and knows when to raise the lower the tempo of a game. Their mixture of technique and energy is very difficult to play against.
Germany have plenty of energy themselves, though, and will field one of this tournament's standout performers in Leon Goretzka. The Schalke midfielder scored twice early on against Mexico and is likely to be partnered again by Sebastian Rudy although, similarly to their defence, Germany have plenty of options and are tactically adaptable. Emre Can is available and Kerem Demirbay, who notched an excellent goal against Cameroon, can also slot in. It is a mobile set of options that can handle themselves physically too -- and this will be exactly the kind of test Low hoped they would face.
Alexis Sanchez is one of this tournament's biggest names although he has not quite shone as brightly as usual. His group stage goal against Germany was well taken but he has not been at his threatening best otherwise -- maybe ongoing speculation about his club future is taking its toll, though manager Juan Antonio Pizzi stressed that he is "very happy" and "giving his best like everybody else." Sanchez could probably do with a little more help; Chile can blow hot and cold in front of goal and although Eduardo Vargas, his primary accomplice, has a good record at international level he is not a top-bracket finisher and missed a good chance early on against Mexico. It is an area where Chile lack high-quality alternatives.
The goals have flowed for Germany. Eleven in four games is a formidable record and three of them have come from Timo Werner, the gifted RB Leipzig forward who looks a decent bet to force his way into next year's World Cup side. Werner has had plenty of help from PSG's Julian Draxler and the underrated Lars Stindl, while Goretzka has also pitched in tellingly. Amin Younes' goal from the bench against Mexico showed that there is strength in depth too; this German front line may lack experience but it is currently purring.
Pizzi is a relatively unknown managerial quantity outside South America but has, by and large, retained the style Chile deployed so effectively under Jorge Sampaoli. "The only way we can compete is to take chances, always on the edge," he said after the semifinal win over Portugal. Chile still seek to play at a brisk tempo and take the initiative; essentially they have not changed and Pizzi has already experienced success by guiding them to the Copa America Centenerio title last year.
There are still some who doubt Low's qualities, suggesting he has been fortunate to inherit such a formidable production line of German players, but it is difficult to argue with his record over the past 11 years. This time around he took the bold step of leaving his star names at home, but his faith in a thrilling set of young talents has been rewarded. The experience of this summer may pay even greater dividends next year for the reigning world champions.
There are few teams as practiced at tournament football as this Chile side. The bulk of their likely starting XI defeated Spain in the 2014 World Cup and also represented their country at South Africa 2010. They have won two Copa Americas since then; this is a group of vastly experienced players that knows how to handle pressure and create results that are, arguably, greater than the sum of their parts. Chile got stronger as their semifinal with Portugal went on, which flew in the face of suggestions that a team that has faced such a rigorous schedule in recent years was growing tired. They have had longer to prepare for this final than Germany, which should offset their 120-minute haul on Wednesday night, and look ready for a third successive summer of celebration.
Yet Germany are the team in better form after their battering of Mexico, and they are arguably under less pressure. Low picked this young squad, shorn of so many senior players, to see how they would be able to handle tournament football and put themselves in the frame for key roles next year. Whatever happens now, it is clear that they have responded -- and having drawn 1-1 with Chile in the group stage they have already shown they can handle their opponents' methods.
Chile 2-1 Germany (after extra-time). This will be a meeting between a tournament machine and a group of players that could well become one. Germany have impressed everybody but Chile have the nous to see this one through -- possibly after another bout of extra-time.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.