Chile wasn’t exactly at its attacking best they displayed against Japan in the opener, but it got the job done as Alexis Sanchez and Jose Fuenzalida provided the firepower in a 2-1 win over Ecuador. The three points moved Chile into sole possession of the lead in Group C and secured a spot in the knockout stage for the defending champions.
The game had an edge from the opening whistle as Sebastian Mendez, newly installed into the Ecuador midfield after riding the bench for the opening loss to Uruguay, received a third minute yellow card for barging through the back of Charles Aranguiz. That spurred Chile on and they opened the scoring before the 10-minute mark, the second early goal Ecuador has conceded in its two Copa America matches.
Fuenzalida was the man to finish it off as a corner swung in and the ball pinged around the box until it rolled out to the 34-year-old where he fired a shot that found the inside of the far post. It put Ecuador behind early again after they shipped a sixth-minute opener to Nicolas Lodeiro and Uruguay a few days ago.
The game ground to a halt past the 20-minute mark as Chile settled in with the lead, but Ecuador found a moment with Chile a bit too relaxed. With Jefferson Orejuela on the ball in midfield and staring at acres of space down the middle, he burst forward and lofted a ball over the top to Romario Ibarra. The Minnesota United frontman lifted his leg up to tap the ball out of the air and to his teammate Mendez charging into the box. With Gary Medel left in Mendez’s wake, Chile goalkeeper Gabriel Arias came out of net and looked to smother the chance but instead chopped down Mendez and the referee awarded the clear penalty. Enner Valencia stepped up and blasted the ball through for Ecuador’s first goal of the tournament, leveling the game at 1-1.
In a tournament marred by constant VAR controversies, the problems continued as the referee initially gave nothing for a clear dive by Romario Ibarra under pressure from Arias. In a replay review that took nearly five minutes, the referee decided to change his decision and give a yellow card to Arias instead of carding Ibarra for simulation. All in all, it was the first yellow for Arias after he was not cautioned for the penalty earlier – which he should have been – so the farcical VAR booking thankfully did not see him sent off.
The second half started drab, but Chile bided its time and grabbed the lead in the 51st minute as an Aranguiz cross came in from the end line right of net and sailed the scrum in front of goal, only to fall at the back post where Alexis Sanchez was waiting. The Manchester United attacker delivered a pinpoint volley that chipped Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez and found the top-right corner.
Both sides had chances after Chile went ahead, but the defending champions looked more likely to score. Erick Pulgar nearly put Chile 3-1 up in the 65th minute but his bullet header off a corner was athletically saved by Dominguez with a diving stop to keep the ball from sneaking in under the crossbar. With time winding down, Ecuador’s job became monumental after Gabriel Achilier was sent off with a straight red card after a stray forearm caught Arturo Vidal in the head on an aerial challenge, and the referee immediately had his decision made.
Ecuador had little left to offer as Chile successfully saw out the game and picked up its second win of the group stage, securing a spot in the next round and eliminating Ecuador. Chile will round out the group stage with a match against Uruguay that will mean something for their opponents who have not yet secured a spot in the knockouts after slipping to a draw with Japan.