ESTADIO NACIONAL, Santiago — After conducting his post-match interview, on the pitch, Alexis Sanchez walked towards Chile fans gathered in the stand by the tunnel and hurled his shirt into their midst.
They went wild, grabbing at what would be a wonderful souvenir from their 1-0 win over Uruguay—a brutal, combative clash that saw Chile overcome the side that has turfed them out three times in the past five editions of the Copa America.
Arsenal forward Alexis had been chosen as the man of the match, but the star admitted after the game that he was far from his whirlwind best.
He said, per Chilean network Teledoce, that he felt tired in the first half but managed to pick himself up in the second half after some words with his teammates.
Alexis was right to acknowledge his performance was below the level that we have come to expect from him. Bar a five-minute spell in which he headed wide and curled an effort fractionally off target, he had a quiet game.
That was in part thanks to the kicking that Uruguay made sure he received. Rough treatment by the Celeste saw them eventually reduced to nine men.
Edinson Cavani ended a terrible tournament for him, in which he played three games and scored no goals, by getting sent off for two idiotic yellow cards.
The first was for remonstrating with a linesman, while the second came when he raised his hand to Gonzalo Jara’s face after the Chilean had touched a sensitive and, shall we say, private area of Cavani’s body.
And then Jorge Fucile, who had a wretched game, was given a second booking for a reckless, high challenge on Alexis, which sparked a mass brawl.
Uruguay were playing badly and creating little, but their defence was holding out against Jorge Sampaoli’s men. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez were having exceptional games, giving Eduardo Vargas little time to breathe.
Arturo Vidal still doesn’t look half the player he was before he crashed his Ferrari, and Alexis was off his game too.
With just 10 minutes left on the clock it seemed like we were heading for penalties, with the Copa America not using extra time until the final.
This would have been harsh on Chile in many ways, as they were by far the better team and didn’t deserve to face a near 50 per cent chance of elimination from the spot.
However, Mauricio Isla and Jorge Valdivia had other ideas. Both these two players have enjoyed wonderful tournaments and, unlike Alexis, carried their form on into this game.
Valdivia played many sumptuous passes, but the one he teed up Isla with was more sensible than silky.
The playmaker nudged it to his right, after weighing up the options. Isla took one touch to set himself and another to fizz a firecracker into the bottom right corner.
The goal was deserved, not just for his impressive display in this game, but over the past fortnight.
Sampaoli hailed him after the game, as noted by Richard Martin in the Mirror. He said: “Isla is having an incredible Copa America. He has performed at the highest level in all four games. He interprets what is asked of him very well, in defence, and in attack.”
While Valdivia and Isla shone under the lights at a rowdy, electric Estadio Nacional, Alexis found things tough going.
This Uruguay game was a different beast than the matches they played in the group against Ecuador, Mexico and Bolivia, the latter of whom they beat 5-0.
Bolivia play Peru on Thursday night, and the winner of that game faces Chile in the semi-final, which gives La Roja and Alexis a fine chance of reaching the final.
Although they got past Uruguay here, it had more to do with Cavani’s sending-off than any great mass of clear goalscoring chances.
And that’s why they need Alexis to return to his best soon, as Chile try to end their trophy drought. They have not lifted the Copa America once in 99 years; this time around they finally have the tools to do it.