Chile's golden generation can't match young Germany in Confed Cup final
One of football's most fascinating aspects is the quantity of variables involved. A match between the same two teams can take any number of paths.
Just over a year ago, for example, Chile took on Mexico in a warm-up friendly before the Copa America Centenario. The Chileans enjoyed the balance of play and created the bulk of the chances but lost 1-0. The teams then met in the quarterfinal. Once again, the Chileans enjoyed the balance of play and created the bulk of the chances, but this time they went in. Facing scoreboard pressure, the Mexicans left themselves open. Chile poured through the gap and won 7-0. It was the same two sides, a similar pattern of game -- and a very different outcome.
The pattern of the Confederations Cup final looked clear before the game. Chile and Germany had fought out a 1-1 draw in the group stage. True to their characteristics, Chile came out of the blocks quickly, applying relentless early pressure. Toward the end of the first half, unable to maintain the level of intensity, the Chileans began to offer space, and the Germans could run at them.
Predictably, the final followed a similar pattern -- but with a key difference. In the group game, Chile's bright start brought an early goal, with the Germans equalising shortly before the break.
If the pattern of the rematch was predictable, the way the outcome unfolded was not. Because if Chile could point to one big advantage going into this game, it was experience. The Germans had brought a young, experimental side. Chile's team, meanwhile, have been together for almost a decade, and after winning the 2015 Copa America and last year's Copa America Centenario, they were playing their third final in three years. One might expect that they would adapt to the big occasion better than their opponents.
But the signs were there from the start that this might not be their day. Chile played a fine first 15 minutes, pressing the Germans back and exerting control on the game. This time, though, there was no early goal. There were some half chances, as the ball fizzed around the German penalty area. But Chile snatched at their shots -- a sign of an anxious team. Good situations were wasted.
Then they made the mistake that cost them the match. It was a schoolboy error from veteran central midfielder Marcelo Diaz, who plays in a position where losing the ball is a cardinal sin. On the edge of his area, Diaz turned away blindly from one opponent -- straight into another. Timo Werner nipped the ball away from him, drew out keeper Claudio Bravo and squared for Lars Stindl to tap into the unguarded net.
This time, then, Chile were a goal behind before the 20-minute mark. Germany had barely gotten out of their own half but were already ahead, and the game was entering the phase when they could be expected to grow. Sure enough, the rest of the first half belonged to them.
After the interval, the game entered uncharted territory. The group match between these sides had petered out in the second half, with both teams broadly happy with the result. Now, though, Chile had to chase the game. Could they do it? A total of four goals in the four previous games of the tournament suggested that they would have a hard task. This is a side that frequently fails to score the quantity of goals promised by its ambitious buildup play, and an aging side at the end of the season clearly lacked the lung power to exert sustained pressure.
There was a last hurrah, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the German goal obliged to show that he is not just a goalkeeper who is proficient with his feet. Substitute centre-forward Angelo Sagal missed the best chance to equalise, blazing a left-footed shot over the bar -- a symbolic moment, perhaps, exemplifying the problems that Chile are likely to have in replacing their golden generation.
But Chile have clearly gotten full value from becoming continental champions for the first time. They had a long wait -- 99 years -- to get their hands on some serious silverware, and a big perk of winning the Copa America was the chance to take part in the Confederations Cup. Chile have given us some memorable moments in the past three weeks, and their army of travelling fans appear to have enjoyed the experience. Coach, players and supporters will hope to be back next year for the World Cup, the event that will bring to an end the international careers of many of the country's best generation.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.