Confederations Cup action returns on Wednesday night as the semifinal stage kicks off in Kazan with European champions Portugal taking on Copa America winners Chile.
With the tournament group stage wrapped up, the two teams face each other in the first straight knockout match to book a spot in Sunday’s final at St. Petersburg Stadium.
Wednesday’s semifinal is the fourth in Confed Cup history between a European and South American team, with the South Americans having the slightly better record with two wins to one.
However, the continent has been represented on all three occasions by Brazil, who beat Czech Republic in 1997 and Germany in 2005, the only European victory coming courtesy of France in 2001.
The latest meeting promises to produce some intriguing on-field battles between the current wealth of world stars both sides possess.
Key battle – Cristiano Ronaldo v Alexis Sanchez
Portugal will be captained by record goalscorer and appearance maker Cristiano Ronaldo, who has appeared throughout the tournament unfazed by an ongoing Spanish court case over tax fraud to be named man of the match in all three of Portugal’s games.
The current best player on the planet has been instrumental for his country, netting goals versus Russia and New Zealand while also setting up Ricardo Quaresma’s opening strike against Mexico.
On Wednesday, Ronaldo will face someone whom many consider to be the best player in England – Arsenal winger Alexis Sanchez. The man with perhaps the most famous thighs in football has been at the center of speculation regarding a move away from Arsenal this summer.
So far 28-year-old Sanchez has only managed cameo roles in the tournament due to an ankle injury, but his impact was immediately felt when coming on after 58 minutes against Cameroon to set up Chile’s two late goals in their opening game.
Sanchez was fit enough start versus world champions Germany three days later, and became his country’s all-time leading scorer by bagging Chile’s goal in a 1-1 draw. Sanchez added to his joint-record appearance maker tag in the game, where he was also named man of the match.
The two preened wingers will be desperate to outshine each other in Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan, the winner receiving the right to lead their team out against either Mexico or Germany in St. Petersburg.
Key partnership – Arturo Vidal & Eduardo Vargas
Midfield titan Arturo Vidal has been pivotal in orchestrating Chilean attacks so far in the tournament, demonstrated in his man of the match display versus Cameroon, scoring the first goal in a 2-0 win against ‘The Indomitable Lions’.
Vidal also provided the assist for Alexis Sanchez’s milestone goal versus Germany. The threat posed by the Bayern Munich man is never more potent than when he is paired with playmaker Eduardo Vargas.
Pacey winger Vargas has found joy latching onto Vidal’s smart passing from midfield, although has on occasion fallen foul of contentious decisions from the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), as was the case against Cameroon.
Should Vidal shine versus Portugal in his usual enforcer role in the center of midfield, Vargas should be allowed room to make darting forward runs, posing a huge threat for the Portuguese back line.
However, whether Vargas can stay on the right side of the game’s technology is another matter.