Peru reached their first Copa America final since 1975 after beating defending champions Chile 3-0 on Thursday.
Edison Flores, Yoshimar Yotun and Paolo Guerrero all found the back of the net to put an end to Chile’s dream of a third consecutive crown, a feat only achieved once by Argentina in the 1940s.
Peru will now face hosts Brazil in the championship match in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, bidding to win their first title since 1975.
Here’s a look at the key talking points from the semi-final.
Peru exploit fast start
Against all expectations, the early exchanges were dominated by a Peru team which had been expected to spend the game mounting a rearguard action by sitting deep and only attacking on the counter.
It took only two minutes for Ricardo Gareca’s team to create their first opening as Paolo Guerrero found Christian Cueva, who should have done better than fire wide from 15 yards. But Peru continued to call the shots and went ahead after 20 minutes when pacy left wing Edison Flores made a dangerous burst into the box to win a corner and, after Peru failed to clear the subsequent set-piece, Flores coolly converted an angled drive.
Those opening 20 minutes set the tone for the rest of the game, with Peru able to play with confidence and focus while Chile had been knocked out of their stride. La Roja’s disarray was illustrated by horrendous collective defending for Peru’s second goal just before the break, when goalkeeper Gabriel Arias came miles out of his goal but failed to clear and the back line stood and watched while Yoshimar Yotun fired home from the edge of the box.
That left Chile with too much to do, as Peru made the most of their fast start to secure a famous victory and wrapped it up with an injury time strike from Guerrero.
Peru making history
It’s fair to say that Peru had not done a huge amount to earn their place in the semi-final, having only scored in one of their previous four games in the competition and sneaking into the last four with a penalty shoot-out victory over Uruguay, who had three goals disallowed for offside.
But that was certainly not the case in this semi-final, which saw Peru deliver an outstanding performance from front to back, claiming a convincing and fully merited victory to march into their first Copa America Final since 1975.
Peru have only ever won two major titles, taking Copa America in 1939 and 1975, and they will be massive underdogs heading into Sunday’s final with hosts Brazil. But they have been in that position throughout the tournament, regarded as huge outsiders to advance to the final after being placed in the same half of the knockout draw as Colombia, Chile and Uruguay.
They have lasted the course, however, with everyone from goalkeeper Pedro Gallese to centre forward Guerrero contributing fully to their semi-final success. And the confidence of their display against Chile suggests they will have play with a liberating sense of having nothing to lose in Sunday’s showpiece. Brazil, beware.
Sanchez fails to spark Chile
Trailing 2-0, Chile were frustrated by two key moments either side of the half-time whistle: firstly Jose Fuenzalida fired a smart snapshot which Peru keeper Gallese did well to tip over the bar, and then Eduardo Vargas met a right-wing free-kick with an excellent header which was only repelled by the left upright.
If either of those chances had gone in, the complexion of the game would have been completely changed and a Chilean comeback may have been on the cards. But those big moments went against the reigning champions, who can have no complaints about their exit following a surprisingly disjointed display.
In particular, Chile will be very disappointed with the lack of impact made by their iconic forward, Alexis Sanchez. The Manchester United man cut a frustrated figure throughout the game, with the fact that his best moment was a cheeky attempt to score direct from a corner revealing everything about his lack of overall impact.
After a dire season in England, this Copa America was Sanchez’s big chance for salvation. A strong start to the competition suggested he would do just that, but he failed to stand up to the test in Chile’s biggest hour of need, prompting further doubts over his future as a top-level performer.
Coach Javier Aguirre claims Mohamed Salah is a certainty to win the Ballon d’Or if Egypt triumph at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The 27-year-old capped a remarkable first two years with Liverpool by lifting the Champions League last month and Aguirre believes victory for the host nation will secure the forward’s place among the world’s greats.
“I see him so far struggling and struggling hard to win the Ballon d’Or. Why not? He is a Champions League winner with Liverpool,” he told Cadena Sur.
“If he can lead Egypt to the African Cup of Nations, no one can keep the Ballon d’Or away from him.”
Salah missed training on Thursday with a cold but is expected to play in the hosts’ last-16 tie against South Africa.
The Liverpool player has two goals from the group stages and Aguirre rejected suggestions his side have not scored enough goals after winning 1-0, 2-0 and 2-0.
“We have scored goals in 10 of the 11 matches since I have been in charge,” he told a press conference.
“It’s very difficult to win each match 5-0, very difficult.”
The Mexican believes the pressure being put on the hosts to win the tournament for an eighth time is huge.
“All the players have the same idea when they play against Egypt – that they have nothing to lose,” he added.
“That’s the way they play against us – we are playing at home, we are the favourites, we have Salah, and they have nothing to lose.
“It’s very important that we know how to handle this situation.”
South Africa lost two of their three group matches but still progressed as one of the best third-placed sides.
Coach Stuart Baxter accepts his team are up against it in the knockout stage.
“My players know they can do a little bit better and they know they can be more efficient,” he told a press conference.
“In the final third they know they can improvise a little bit more and I think they are looking forward to that challenge.
“Against the home nation, that may all fall to the ground if they overwhelm us, but I don’t think that is going to happen.”
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The Argentina captain felt a number of decisions went against his side in Belo Horizonte as goals from Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino in each half put Brazil through to a final against Chile or Peru.
Messi was particularly aggrieved Argentina were not awarded a penalty by referee Roddy Zambrano immediately prior to Brazil’s second goal but that was only one of a number of complaints.
The 32-year-old told reporters: “They were not better than us. They found the net early and the second goal came from a penalty they didn’t award.
“The officiating was crazy. There were clear penalties, on (Nicolas) Otamendi, on ‘Kun’ (Sergio Aguero).
“He (the referee) was on their side. In every divided ball or dispute, he inclined the pitch their way.
“It’s not an excuse, but the truth is that, in this Copa, they kept on blowing for stupid things, for handballs, penalties.
“But today, they didn’t even go to VAR when there were clear plays that should have been looked at.”
Despite the result, Messi was proud of his team-mates and believes there is a bright future ahead for the national side.
The Barcelona star said: “It was the best match we did in the Copa, against a Brazil that has spectacular players in all its lines.
“These guys made a huge sacrifice. They deserve respect. Argentina has the material to keep growing.”
Brazil captain Dani Alves admitted his side had needed to dig deep to secure the result.
He said: “Argentina were a very difficult opponent. We needed to make a barbaric effort.
“It’s one more step towards our goal. Everything we aimed for from the beginning we are fulfilling but we knew it would not be easy.
“I think many people doubted us but we have a lot of trust in our work.”
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