And so, this then was football’s freak show — the final of the Confederations Cup: Chile, the fearlessly gung-ho kings of South America playing a resplendent Germany, who, as a work in progress, were the revelation of this Confederations Cup. The tournament remains unloved — a little stepbrother of the World Cup — without a competitive edge and conspicuously lacking the grandeur of the quadrennial high mass of the game.
Yet Germany set the tournament — that lacked star power, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexis Sanchez — alight with a bevy of youngsters, who propelled 'Die Mannschaft' forward under the captaincy of Julian Draxler and the midfield impulses of Leon Goretzka. Loew left his star alliance of Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller at home, and, without any trace of smugness, drafted the next generation of Germany talents, from the impressive Teutonic production line, into the senior team.
Loew’s selection policies earned him mild mockery, but his developmental approach to the tournament proved to be a masterstroke. He may well have solved the last piece in his jigsaw of finding a requisite Number 9, Germany’s Achilles heel in recent seasons, notably at Euro 2016 in the semi-finals against France. Timo Werner, who scored three goals in Russia, is a bright prospect in that position. In the semi-finals, the Germans breezed past Mexico in leisurely fashion, showcasing that they possess nearly 50 players of elite level. At next year’s World Cup, opponents will find it difficult to dethrone the defending champions.
So what could Chile, who contained and even dominated their illustrious rivals for a 1-1 draw in the group stages, muster in the final? The mandatory closing ceremony was up first, with the great and the good, including Diego Maradona, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa and Brazil coach Tite marking their presence in the skyboxes of the steep Krestovky Stadium. The show honoured the previous winners of the competition — a hint perhaps that this might be the last Confederations Cup game ever — with tacky Samba and Salsa tunes before Ronaldo (the original one) presented the Confederations Cup trophy.
From the onset, the Chileans proffered their vintage psychedelic football, swarming from all angles and pressing Germany high up the pitch, so much so that Chile, at times, had seven players in the opponent’s half when out of possession. Arturo Vidal’s play matched his over-the-top a cappella anthem singing: He was omnipresent, exploited the space in midfield and offered refined passes. Alexis’ darting runs stretched the German back line. Perhaps it was a 'faux pas' by Germany and Loew, who seemed to have devised a plan nor a strategy to counter the swashbuckling Chileans, apart from playing with five at the back, as wing-backs Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector propped up Germany’s three-man defence.
Chile made plenty of incursions into the Germany box: Vidal shot straight at Marc-Andre Ter Stegen from eight yards and Eduardo Vargas had a powerful shot from outside the box. This was a Chilean demonstration, outclassing the bewildered Germans.
But football has simple laws and not converting your chances can be cataclysmic. In the 20th minute, Lars Stindl scored at the other end, courtesy of his very own 'high pressing' and a defensive howler from Marcelo Diaz. He simply walked the ball into net from Werner’s assist. Germany had enjoyed 35 percent of the possession — 1.8 percent was perhaps a more accurate figure — but were in the lead. The suave and modish Loew was ecstatic in his touchline celebration.
Enter a watered-down version of Germany’s favorite 'Umschaltspiel'. They soaked up Chile’s ensuing pressure, remained composed and utilised their polished transitions as a tool of intimidation. Germany probed and poked and before the interlude, Draxler and Goretzka stung like bees, but without the end product.
At half-time, Chile captain Claudio Bravo and his players huddled as the Germans walked off and down the tunnel. That public pep talk didn’t help in the second half. Chile lacked zip and drive. They dropped off and Juan Antonio Pizzi reacted with a bold substitution, switching to a 4-3-3 formation with the introduction of Leonardo Valencia.
A delightful first half transitioned into an ill-natured and grouchy sequence of scuffles, handbags, with Kimmich as protagonist, and VAR-farce, a ubiquitous, slapstick tech feature at this Confederations Cup, which didn’t aid the low standard of refereeing in Russia. Gonzalo Jara stuck a murderous elbow on Werner’s jaw, but after VAR-intervention Serbian referee Milorad Mazic produced a baffling rationale, if any at all: He showed Jara a yellow card.
The VAR disrupted the flow and the rhythm of the match. For a moment it seemed that Pizzi had been sent off, but in the last 20 minutes Chile pressed forward. Pizzi went all in, replacing Charles Aranguiz and Eduardo Vargas with Angelo Sagal and Eduson Puch. Loew wanted to consolidate, fortifying Germany’s midfield with the power of Emre Can.
In the 85th minute, the two substitutes combined for Chile’s best chance, but with an awful touch, Sagal spooned the ball high into the stands. It was a sign of Chile’s impotence and frustration. They played a fiery and feisty final, but, ultimately, the Germans were cleverer and superior. Even their reserve team can win a major tournament. The winner of the Confederations Cup has never gone on to win the World Cup, but, on the evidence of their superlative football, Germany may well upend that hoodoo next year in Russia.
Published Date: Jul 03, 2017 07:40 AM | Updated Date: Jul 03, 2017 07:48 AM