Chile looked dominant in their final group game Tuesday against Panama, as the 4-2 scoreline attests. Then again, Panama was missing Anibal Godoy, Blas Pérez and Felipe Baloy. Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sánchez broke their international goal droughts in a solid victory. On the other hand, they’re going to be staring down a much stouter defense in Mexico in the quarterfinals. Chile is finally waking up -- or maybe, they're a disjointed side who can only take it to minnows. What might we see from La Roja when they take on Mexico in Santa Clara on Saturday?
Why Chile can win
The team is flush with technical quality on every line. Gary "The Pitbull" Medel not only sits in for a tackle, but can bring the ball forward in possession. Arturo Vidal is one of the best two-way midfielders in the game. He didn’t have the best season upon arriving at Bayern Munich last year, but he has incredible defensive instincts and can crash the box for a goal when called upon. Claudio Bravo was kind of terrible on both Panama goals Tuesday, but he was also starting keeper for Barcelona the past two seasons.
Furthermore, Vargas and Sánchez might be hitting some form. Both players have struggled in the red jersey of late. Vargas was running a six-match scoreless streak going into Tuesday's match. Sánchez had not found net in eight games. Vargas’ entire value lives and dies on his international performances. He’s never found his groove at club level, whether it’s been for Napoli, QPR or Hoffenheim. Both players netted a brace each against Panama -- exquisite, elegant goals that suggest they can take it to Mexico’s constantly shifting back line. Mexico head coach Juan Carlos Osorio has yet to settle on a preferred XI and the likes of Vargas and Sánchez could expose that.
Why Chile might lose
Chile put the sword to Bolivia and Panama, two sides that don’t have much in the way of quality to speak of, in this tournament. Meanwhile, they were thoroughly outclassed by a Messi-less Argentina in the first group game. The midfield was frequently exposed on the counter and their buccaneering style seemed suicidal. Mexico might not possess the up-and-down quality of Argentina, but Javier "Chicharito" Hernández will give the likes of Medel all sorts of problems.
Mexico loves to pressure opponents and their last meeting two weeks ago didn't speak too highly of Chile’s ability to contain them. And yes, El Tri will be the home team. If Vargas and Sánchez can't find space in the final third, if Chicharito bosses Medel around on the other side of the park and if Bravo has another horrible game, Chile’s going home on Saturday night.
Chile should be a favorite to win this tournament. They’re the defending champs and have world-class players on every line. Their ball movement and passing patterns have looked positively elegant at times, and both Vargas and Sánchez seem to be waking up at the right time. Mexico hasn’t lost a game in an eternity, however, and will be the most talented opponent La Roja has faced outside of Argentina. For Chile to pull of an upset on Saturday, everything has to go right. Time will tell if luck is on their side.