June 18, 2016
Chile, perhaps more than any other team, came into this month’s Copa America Centenario feeling it had something to prove.
Although it is the defending champion, it wasn’t given one of the tournament’s four seeds. Although Chiles is ranked fifth in the world, most of the pre-Centenario attention focused on Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil.
But if Chile was overlooked, it made sure it could no longer be ignored, dominating Mexico, 7-0, Saturday before a stunned pro-Mexico crowd of 70,547 at Levi’s Stadium.
With the win, Chile moves on to the semifinals Wednesday in Chicago, where it will meet Colombia. Unbeaten Argentina plays the U.S. in the other semifinal Tuesday in Houston
Eduardo Vargas, who led last year’s tournament in scoring, scored four times Saturday — notching a hat trick in the first 30 minutes of the second half — and leads this year’s event with six goals. Chile also got two goals from Edson Puch — one in each half — and a second-half score from Alexis Sanchez.
Mexico, meanwhile, had only one shot on goal as its yearlong unbeaten streak came to an inglorious end after 22 matches. Before Saturday, Mexico had not lost in 10 matches under new Coach Juan Carlos Orosio, giving up only two goals in that time.
El Tri gave up three goals in a nine-minute span early in the second half Saturday. Before the game was over, the smattering of Mexican fans who stayed until the end had turned the vulgar chant they use for opposing keepers on their own goalie, Guillermo Ochoa.
They should have saved it for the team’s defenders, who gave Ochoa little help.
Chile, which came into the quarterfinal leading the tournament in passes and second in passing efficiency, but on another display of precision ball movement Saturday.
Puch got the scoring started innocently enough, collecting the rebound of Marcelo Diaz’s long-range shot in the 16th minute and driving it past Ochoa, who couldn’t scramble back fast enough to make the save.
Vargas doubled the lead a minute before halftime. And just as with the first score, the build-up was impressive before it ended with Sanchez slipping a pass the toward the penalty spot for Vargas, who stepped away from a trio of stationary Mexican defenders and drove a left-footed shot just inside far post.
But Chile was only getting warmed up, with goals by Sanchez (49th minute) and Vargas (52th and 58th minute) turning the game into a rout.
Arturo Vidal set up the first goal, stripping the ball from Mexico’s Hector Herrera deep in the offensive end, drawing Ochoa off his line, then slipping the ball to a wide-open Sanchez, who knocked it in.
Vargas’ second goal also came off a Mexican error deep in its own end and five minutes later he completed the hat trick, again scoring on a rebound. His final goal came in the 74th minute, by which time the stadium was half empty.
Puch then added his second goal in the 88th minute.
Tournament organizers will be sad to see Mexico go. Although high ticket prices have been blamed for the limited attendance at U.S. games, the cost hadn’t kept Mexican fans away, with El Tri averaging more than 70,000 fans in its four games, setting a Levi’s Stadium record for soccer Saturday.
Mexico did almost as well on television with its three group-play games averaging 4.9 million total viewers and outdrawing the Stanley Cup final on NBC and the Tony Awards on CBS among adults 18-49.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11