KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW —- Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas struck twice in the last nine minutes as Chile secured a winning start to their Confederations Cup campaign at the new Moscow Spartak stadium.
Bayern Munich midfielder Vidal converted a second-half cross from substitute Alexis Sanchez who set up the second for Vargas as the South American champions justified their selection as many observers’ favourites to win the entire tournament.
But opponents Cameroon made it awkward for them, even though they were helped in their initial resistance by the day’s second decisive intervention from a video assistant referee, in this case Frenchman Clement Turpin.
Confidently, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi had left Arsenal’s Sanchez resting initially on the substitutes’ bench against an African team with plenty to prove after a typically confused build-up.
This had featured a complex row between the Cameroon federation and world governing body FIFA, which remained unresolved even amid the involvement of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Etoile Filante de Garoua had argued that the current FECAFOOT administration lacked the authority to send a team to the tournament. FIFA responded that while a solution was being sought the game must go on.
That, of course and by happy coincidence, included the Confederations Cup showcase in Russia a year ahead of the country’s staging of the World Cup finals.
Chile pushed the African champions back into their own penalty box from the start. Within the first minute keeper Fabrice Ondoa scrambled low to his left to divert a drive from Eduardo Vargas for a corner.
Ten minutes passed before Cameroon managed to escape their own half but then they nearly opened the scoring.
Besiktas’ Vincent Aboubakar raced away on a counter-attack, keeper Johnny Herrra stuck out a foot to save only for the ball to cannon against retreating Gonzalo Jara and ricochet, fortunately for Chile, inches over their own crossbar.
Cameroon had a ‘goal’ disallowed for a foul on Vidal, back in defence, before Chile returned to the attack. Edson Puch had a serving drive pushed to safety by Ondoa who then tipped away a stab at goal from Jose Fuenzalida.
Bad misses were exchanged at both ends of the pitch by Cameroon’s otherwise impressive Benjamin Moudandjo and Vargas before the first half came to a controversial end.
Vidal pierced the Cameroon defence for Vargus to stride through and thrash his shot beyond Ondoa. Chilean celebrations were cut short when Slovene referee Damir Skomina referred the incident to the VAR and Turpin who adjudged Vargas offside.
The decision infuriated Chilean fans in the stadium and Vidal had to be pulled away from Skomina as teams and officials left the pitch at half-time.
Chile brought Sanchez into the action early in the second half in which both teams maintained, impressively, their first-half momentum but without creating as much danger.
Mauricio Isla went nearest to a goal with a close-range header which skimmed wide of a post when it appeared easier to score but they gained their deserved rewards in the last nine minutes.
First Sanchez provided the left-wing cross from which Vidal headed Chile in front in the 81st minute then he raced away clear in stoppage time, saw his shot blocked, but could celebrate when Vargas shot the loose ball home.
This time the goal was confirmed by the video referee. Thus Skomina and Turpin ended up all-square, Chile won and Cameroon were the only losers.