By AARON CRANFORD
For the third time in history, and first time on home soil, Chile will play in the Copa America final.
Taking advantage of an early red card to Peru and a pair of goals from Eduardo Vargas, including a firecracker in the second half to re-take the lead, Chile held on at the Estadio Nacional to defeat Peru, 2-1, on Monday evening.
The intensity was present from the very beginning, as Arturo Vidal and Carlos Zambrano got into a small scuffle early on. The Peruvian defender was shown a yellow card in the 7th minute for a takedown of Alexis Sanchez just outside of the penalty area on the right wing.
On the other end, Paulo Guerrero chased down the ball in the 9th minute and swung in a dangerous cross after beating Vidal, but to the agony of Peru, Jefferson Farfan’s header hit the left post and bounced back into play.
Despite the match taking place in Chile’s capital, Peru didn’t let up the pressure in the beginning, and in the 17th minute, Carlos Lobaton rippled the side-netting with a blast after Guerrero played a neat ball into his path.
However, for the second consecutive game, Chile finished the match with at least a one-man advantage, due to Peru defender Carlos Zambrano being shown a straight red card after only twenty minutes into the match.
Zambrano was penalized, some say harshly, for following through on a powerful clearance with his studs into the back of Chile’s Charles Aránguiz. Although Zambrano had already been yellow carded, the referee José Argote showed Zambrano a straight red card and pointed for Zambrano to go directly to the locker room.
For the second straight week, Chile capitalized on the advantage, with Vargas netting the first of the night close to halftime.
Chile would amp up its attack with the advantage, and in the 28th minute, Jorge Valdivia just missed the bottom-right corner of the goal. Sanchez and Vidal connected nicely in the 31st minute, but to no avail, and three minutes later, Vargas was wide open at the top of the six-yard box, but his shot was blocked.
After looking up for the challenge in the first fifteen minutes, Peru couldn’t contain Chile’s dynamic attack forever.
Vargas finally found the goal in the 42nd minute after a scrappy few moments in front of goal. Sanchez whipped in a cross from the left, which careened off of the right post untouched and into the feet of Vargas, who trickled it over the line, even though replays showed the forward was slightly offside on Sanchez’s initial cross into the area.
In the second half, a Gary Medel own goal off a strong counter-attack down the right wing gave Peru hope of an improbable comeback, but it was short-lived.
In the 60th minute, Luis Advincula ripped a cross across the six-yard box, and in an attempt to prevent a goal, Chile defender Medel tipped the cross into his own net, tying the match at one.
But Vargas smashed home in his second goal of the night, and fourth goal of the tournament, four minutes after the own goal and sent Chile ahead of Peru with less than a half an hour to play.
Peru desperately tried to crawl its way back into the match, and Guerrero roared for a penalty with approximately ten minutes to play, as he and Medel chased down a ball in the box, but his call went unheard by the referee. Peru’s strong run in the 2015 Copa America ended in Santiago, Chile.
Meanwhile, Chile will meet the winner of Argentina and Paraguay, who meet Tuesday, on Saturday in Santiago.