KEIR RADNEDGE in KAZAN: ** Goalkeeper-captain Claudio Bravo made three brilliant saves as Chile reached the final of the Confederations Cup by defeating Portugal 3-0 on penalties after a goalless extra-time draw in their semi-final in the Kazan Arena.
Bravo dived right to deny Ricardo Quaresma and Joao Moutinho and pounced to his left to foil Nani while Chile’s own Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz and Alexis Sanchez thrashed home their own spot-kicks.
This was a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the 34-year-old Chilean captain who had endured a highly-criticised and confidence-shredding first season in the English Premier League at Manchester City after arriving from Barcelona last August.
Bravo, inevitably acclaimed man of the match, said: “I always try to take things calmly but in shootouts it’s not only luck. You need to work hard, do your homework and study your opponents. I knew what I had to do and we’re especially happy to have beaten the European champions to reach the final.
“We never stop believing in ourselves and doing everything we can to win – so now we want to win again in the final.”
Chile probably just about deserved to emerge as winners of a tight game, if only because they were desperately unlucky in hitting both post and bar minutes before the end of the extra 30 minutes.
Then they displayed once again the shootout prowess which brought them success in the Copa America in 2015 and the Copa America Centenario last year.
Germany play Mexico in the second semi-final in Sochi with the final in St Petersburg – where the World Cup warm-up tournament opened – on Sunday.
The game enjoyed a lively start when both the champions of Europe and South America could have scored within the opening minutes.
First Sanchez prised open Portugal’s defence with a sharp reverse pass but Eduardo Vargas saw his shot blocked by the legs on onrushing keeper Rui Patricio then Cristiano Ronaldo broke away at the other end of the pitch and this time Bravo achieved his first star moment by saving with his legs from Andre Silva.
Around the half-hour Charles Aranguiz went close twice for Chile. First he glanced wide a header to a right-wing assist from Mauricio Isla then he shanked badly wide after a cross from the other sailed over the Portuguese defence.
More crucial saves
The second half mirrored the first with both goalkeepers brought into tit-for-tat action. First Rui Patricio saved brilliantly, one-handed, from an acrobatic effort by Vargas then Bravo, standing out, beat out a close-range angled drive from Ronaldo.
As time went on so Chilean playmaker Vidal grew more and more influential. He also began looking for goals – once heading over the bar and then delivering a rising drive which narrowly cleared the frame.
If there was anything between the teams then it was this – that Portugal were having more difficulty containing Vidal than Chile were having with Bernardo Silva.
With little between the teams extra-time was inevitable.
Chile went close after the restart when Sanchez saw a header curl just wide of Rui Patricio’s right-hand post. Then, remarkably, they went even closer in the 118th minute when Vidal drove against Patricio’s left-hand post and Martin Rodriguez stuck out a foot to jab the ricochet against the bar.
Portugal thus survived to take the semi-final to what was, for them, a doomed shootout.
As Chile’s Argentinian manager Juan Antonio Pizzi said: “We are very happy because we have made the country happy. Hopefully we’ll be able to maintain this momentum and these successes for Chilean football.”