Chile reaches third straight major final with PK win over Portugal in Confederations Cup

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/claudio-bravo/" data-ylk="slk:Claudio Bravo">Claudio Bravo</a> saved all three Portugal penalties to help Chile reach the Confederations Cup final. (Reuters)
Claudio Bravo saved all three Portugal penalties to help Chile reach the Confederations Cup final. (Reuters)

In the last two summers, Portugal and Chile have played three major finals between them. All of them ended 0-0 in regulation, before Portugal won Euro 2016 in extra time and Chile claimed both the 2015 Copa America and the 2016 Copa America Centenario over Argentina on penalties.

So it was only fitting that their Confederations Cup semifinal on Wednesday should suffer the same sorry fate, ending 0-0 before going to an equally scoreless extra-time. Chile prevailed on penalties, 3-0, thanks to an imperious performance from Claudio Bravo, who saved every shot he faced.

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It’s fairly rare now that the semifinals of major tournaments are played at such a pleasingly zippy pace as this one initially was. Or indeed with such a callous disregard for sound defending. The stakes are just too high, and teams seek to eliminate risk rather than embrace their strengths. Perhaps this suggests that the Confederations Cup isn’t actually a major tournament, which is a theory that many fans — and seemingly most participants — would subscribe too.

At any rate, the first seven minutes produced a flurry of good chances. For Portugal, Andre Gomes had loads of space for a free shot but scuffed his shot right at Bravo while Cristiano Ronaldo teed up Andre Silva, who was closed down well by the goalkeeper. Edu Vargas, who remains mystifyingly superior for Chile than any club he has represented, was denied one-on-one by Portugal keeper Rui Patricio.

So it went on, although the game would gradually slow from a track meet to a pained crawl. Charles Aranguiz had two tricky looks but couldn’t put either finish on Patricio’s frame. And Arturo Vidal came close a few times as well.

A particular highlight was Vargas’s indecent bicycle kick before the hour, when he flipped the ball up to himself from a corner with his back to goal in a thicket of traffic. But Patricio saved it capably, before he smacked is head into the post.

Ronaldo asserted himself in the late going with a long free kick that sailed just over and a volley that was deflected off the frame. A towering header went wide. It was all just insufficient to break the deadlock in the standard 90 minutes.

Early in a predictably sluggish extra time, Sanchez aimed a header at the bottom corner by the far post, but it spun inches wide of goal. It took Chile until the 112th minute to make its first substitution — underscoring its desperate lack of depth — but just as soon as that sub, Francisco Silva, came on, he was denied an obvious penalty. Referee Alireza Faghani inexplicably didn’t consult his Video Assistant Referee.

In a furious finale by La Roja, Chile went close three times when Vidal smashed a shot off the post, Martin Rodriguez dinked the rebound off the crossbar and Sanchez just missed on the follow-up. But the Chileans would find justice in the penalty shootout.

Bravo saved Portugal’s first three efforts from Ricardo Quaresma, Joao Moutinho and Nani, while his teammates converted all of theirs cleanly, deciding the thing in just three rounds of kicks:

The Chileans will play the winner of Thursday’s Germany-Mexico contest in the other semifinal in Sunday’s big final.

Although only Chile has extended its run of consecutive finals of summer tournaments — whether major or not quite — these teams share a knack for overachieving and will be expected to do so again at the World Cup in Russia next summer. Both rely on a stout defense and the genius of their attacking talent — mostly Ronaldo and Sanchez — to get the goals they need.

They are pragmatic teams, figuring out ways to win. Which is how international titles are seemingly won these days. It’s been a very long time since a Euro, World Cup or Copa America has been claimed by a team playing a truly transcendent brand of soccer. The last team to do so was probably Spain conquering Europe in 2008.

On Sunday, Chile will have the chance to lift yet another trophy without consistently dazzling along the way — it won just once in the group stage, against a Cameroon team that would gather just one point.

La Roja’s might be the unlikeliest dynasty in the international game, if you can call it that D-word, but it nevertheless lives on in these age of austere international soccer.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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