Two-time Copa America winner Chile beat Croatia 5-2 after penalty shoot-outs and reached the final of the 2017 Gree China Cup International Football Championship on Wednesday evening.
Goalkeeper Christopher Toselli became Chile’s savior with two great saves in the nerve-wracking shoot-outs following a 1-1 tie in regular time.
Chile took the lead in the 19th minute when Cesar Pinares curled the ball into the net after a pass from Eduardo Vargas.
Vargas himself would have doubled the lead, but his shot inside the box in the 36th minute was blocked by Croatian goalie Dominik Livakovic. He got two one-on-one opportunities around the hour but his attempts were all saved by the keeper.
In the 76th minute, Franko Andrijasevic equalized for Croatia and the game was dragged into penalty shoot-outs after a 1-1 deadlock.
Goalkeeper Toselli also had several memorable moments in Chile’s effort, blocking the attempts of both Domagoj Antolic and Mirko Maric.
Chile will meet Iceland in the final on January 15, while hosts China will fight for third place against Croatia a day earlier.
“Considering the importance of the match, I feel satisfied with our performance tonight, especially when there is pretty new selection of players. We only had one training session. To the other end, Chile is much more standardized. So they get more preparation for this game,” said Croatia head coach Ante Cacic after the match.
“I would like to congratulate Chile on reaching the final. They created more opportunities to score during the match. The penalties are always lottery, I think Chile is little bit calmer and they deserve to go to the final,” Cacic added.
Chile’s head coach says jet lag may have played a role in his side’s defeat.
“Our performance in the second half was not so good as the performance in the first 45 minutes because we traveled a long way here and some of us suffered the problem of jet lag. Croatia played well in the game. It feels good to win the game through penalty shoot-outs, because it helps the players to improve their mentality,” said Chile head coach Juan Pizzi.
The China Cup, initiated by Wanda Group and the Chinese Football Association, is an A-grade international event acknowledged by the world football governing body FIFA. It is widely tipped to be a platform for the host players to hone their skills ahead of their long-shot bid for the Russia 2018 World Cup.
Wanda Group, a top sponsor of FIFA and instrumental in getting the China Cup off the ground, has been at the forefront of China’s push to become a world football power.
Wanda has also sealed a series of high profile sports investments to build up its sports business arm. It now owns a 20 percent stake in Spanish club Atletico Madrid, has acquired the organizer of the Ironman Triathlon races, the World Triathlon Corp, along with Swiss-based sports marketing firm Infront.