Chile’s biggest asset at the FIFA Confederations Cup is not the dazzling attacking skill of Alexis Sanchez, or even Arturo Vidal’s creativity.
It is down-to-earth goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who saves Chile when their hyper-aggressive pressing is no use at all — at the penalty spot.
Recently recovered from injury, ridiculed by some fans in England following an erratic season at Manchester City, the 34-year-old was imperious in Wednesday’s shoot-out win over Portugal, stopping every shot he faced.
He also made a key stop early in the game, which finished 0-0 after extra-time.
Bravo is not charismatic — he talked calmly of feeling “very balanced” after making the three saves that sent Chile to the Confederations Cup final — but he is the perfect symbol for a Chile team who, despite a reputation for a swashbuckling attacking style, are happy to grind out wins when the pressure is on.
“We were playing with our head as well as our heart,” Bravo said.
Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi elaborated on the meticulous video research that helped Bravo predict where Portugal’s penalties would go.
“You never know exactly what is going to happen, but you can prepare,” Pizzi said.
“Our goalkeeper could foresee what was going to happen and what the player was going to do,” he said.
For Bravo, the key is rock-solid self-belief ahead of the final against either Germany or Mexico, who were to play after press time last night.
“The secret of our success is that we’re very constant,” Bravo said. “We never stop believing in ourselves and we want to do everything we can to win.”
In the shoot-out, he made saves against Portugal’s Ricardo Quaresma, Joao Moutinho and Nani, while Vidal, Charles Aranguiz and Sanchez nailed their spot-kicks for Chile.
“We are satisfied with the result and how we played, but we have still not won anything,” Bravo said.
Chile almost settled the match in the dying stages of extra-time when both Vidal and substitute Martin Rodriguez hit the woodwork as Portugal hung on to take the game to a shoot-out.
The defeat in Kazan will be bitterly disappointing for Portugal’s superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Real Madrid player, who is facing doubts about his future in Spain as he prepares to answer allegations of tax evasion in a Madrid court next month, had won man-of-the-match awards in all three of his side’s group matches.
Up front, AC Milan’s 21-year-old striker Andre Silva partnered Ronaldo, but the pair endured a frustrating night at the hands of Chile’s defense.
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