It only took Chile’s Charles Aránguiz seven minutes to find the back of the net Wednesday night in Chicago in their semifinal Copa America Centenario match against Colombia.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s Aránguiz was in the right place at the right time with the poacher’s finish, the goal wouldn’t have been possible if not for his brilliance in the buildup play.
As both teams struggled to gain a foothold in the opening minutes, Chile looked to keep possession, recycling the ball through the backline. Right centre back Gary Medel received a pass from right fullback Mauricio Isla, narrowly avoided an onrushing Colombia attacker, and stroked a pass 20 yards forward into the feet of Aránguiz, who was facing his own goal five yards shy of the halfway line.
Prince Charles opened his hips ever so slightly towards the near touchline, and with a regal twitch of his right boot, he flicked a through ball down the right wing that José Pedro Fuenzalida was able to run on to at pace, allowing him to slip his marker and whip in a cross that created a nightmare for Colombia’s disorganised defence.
An outswinging ball, lofted towards the back post in the direction of Alexis Sánchez, was actually touched by Colombia’s Juan Cuadrado, retreating from his position in attacking midfield. There were four defenders marking three attackers in that area of the pitch, but Arsenal’s Sánchez was able to find space momentarily as the ball descended.
The Chelsea wide man panicked, headed it back towards goalkeeper David Ospina (who had a bad day at the office), dubiously providing Aránguiz with an assist. Ospina was caught in no-man’s land, momentarily rushing two steps off his line before freezing like a deer in the headlights upon seeing a tenacious Aránguiz atop his six-yard box.
On the plus side, he got a front-row seat for Aránguiz’s classy volley.
Aránguiz received Man of the Match honours, thanks to his goal (which ended up being the winner) and the integral part he played in midfield to help Chile’s La Roja (The Red One) hold Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers) of Colombia scoreless.
The Chileans tacked on another goal just four minutes later, and were able to hang on for the remainder of the match. Despite going down to ten men when Carlos Sánchez received a Gelbrot with 57 minutes gone, José Pékerman and Colombia didn’t pack it in and start thinking about the prospect of a rematch with the United States in the third place match on Saturday.
While a thunderstorm dampened the atmosphere around the ground, the impact was hardly noticeable compared to the state of the pitch in its aftermath. It helped that few of the 55,423 reported fans were unable to leave due to the danger of lightning, but even the pro-Colombia crowd couldn’t sway their team’s fortune. La Tricolor (The Tricolour One) created plenty of chances (outshooting Chile 6-3 in the second half, 13-8 on the night) but were unable to capitalise.
The waterlogged playing surface was unpredictable. Sometimes the ball would come to a complete stop on a puddle, while the other end of the pitch played just about as quickly as it did in the first half. The 27-year-old Aránguiz steadied a Chile midfield that was missing captain and Bayern München star Arturo Vidal, displaying leadership and maturity.
For Chile, this Copa America Centenario final is a rematch of last year’s Copa America Final against Argentina coming up this Sunday. A year ago, in Santiago, Aránguiz scored a penalty in the 4-1 Elfmeterschießen victory (0-0 a.e.t.) that extended his (currently active) streak of consecutive successful spotkicks to 19.
Lurking on the horizon for Prince Charles is the 2016-17 Bundesliga campaign with Die Werkself. He joined Bayer Leverkusen last summer after winning domestic titles in Chile with Colo Colo and Universidad de Chile, and in Brazil with Internacional. Unfortunately, the midfielder ruptured his Achilles tendon and missed Matchdays 2-27. But in just seven games he managed a pair of goals and just as many assists, and was a key part of Leverkusen’s year-end winning streak. Offering a desirable all-around skill set, the Chilean figures to play a big part for a Bayer 04 side that is gearing up for big season.
Automatic qualification to the group stage of the Champions League was secured by Roger Schmidt’s men, as a late surge propelled the Die Werkself to a third-place finish in Germany’s top flight. Leverkusen toiled in 8th on March 25th, but won seven in a row, and eight of nine to finish the season behind only Bayern and Borussia Dortmund.
With midfielder Christoph Kramer moving to Borussia Mönchengladbach, Aránguiz has a big job ahead of him coming up in the fall. The high-octane Bayer attack will thrive off his creativity, and his rare combination of vision and stamina is just what is needed to protect a youthful but very talented backline. And what coach wouldn’t want a midfielder who can chip in with the odd goal as well? With a strike rate of about a goal every seven games over the duration of his career (for both club and country), Prince Charles could become a fan favourite at the BayArena for years to come.
(In addition to Aránguiz and Vidal, another Bundesliga player, Eduardo Vargas of Hoffenheim, has had a brilliant Copa America tournament. The 27 year-old has scored six goals in this edition of the competition, which lifts his international total to 31).