There was a time when the playmaker was the soul of Latin American fútbol. This was a player who could see openings others couldn’t, the one who could find improbable cracks in the opposition’s defense and flawlessly link plays between the strikers and midfielders.
Today, he’s a dying breed. But one of the last remaining examples of this species can be observed on the Chilean national squad currently playing the Copa América: Jorge Valdivia.
Valdivia is the brain and heart of Chile’s attack, an essential player who oversees and controls ball movement and rotation amongst his teammates. Let’s just say that if Chile was a jazz band, he’d be the bass player who sets the rhythm that all the other musicians coalesce around. (Alexis Sánchez would be a virtuous saxophonist, like Charlie Parker, who plays a solo, leaving defenders behind, on his own pace and time).
Valdivia, a former Palmeiras player, sets what in music is known as the rest, and what on the soccer field is called the pause – so important to changing the rhythm of the game and the direction of the ball and attack.
In fact, during the quarter-final game between Chile and Uruguay, he was the key that opened the tough Charrua defense. Thanks to him, Chile went to the tournament’s semi-finals for the first time since 1999, giving them the opportunity to beat Peru last night and move on to the finals.
Uruguay, the team with the most Copa America titles and the current champion, was faithful to its watchful style, waiting for opponents and making no attempts at creating offensive play. As usual, they also showed “la garra Charrua” that has come to characterize them. If we’re still going with the music metaphor, they were like a crazy drum solo that makes more noise than music.
Chile on the other hand, felt the pressure and responsibility towards its fans to win. Patient but constant in their attack, they were unable to open the score until Uruguay played with one less due to Cavanni’s red card. It was then that Valdivia’s bass took over; with a short pass to Mauricio Isla, who kicked straight at the goal and scored.
And last night he once again guided his team to victory. Although it was Eduardo Vargas who scored both goals, El Mago was the key against a strong Peru. The Peruvians played a great game, and even dominated until the 20th minute, when their central defender Carlos Zambrano received a red card for digging his studs into Chilean Charles Aránguiz’s back.
The game changed immediately and Peru had to re-organize itself, creating what seemed like an impenetrable bunker in its defense. Despite the many attacks led by Valdivia, it wasn’t until minute 44, after a series of rebounds, that Vargas opened the score.
The goal didn’t seem to kill the Peruvians’ hope and, led by talented striker Paolo Guerrero, they kept attacking until Chilean defender Gary Medel touched a cross and accidentally put it into his own goal. The celebration however, was cut short, when Vargas once again put the host team ahead with a great shot out of the goal area.
Valdivia is a virtuoso; the only real creative player that survives in the Copa America. His rhythm is the only thing that can take Chile to the title, which along with Venezuela and Ecuador are the only South American nation that has never won the Copa America. It is in this bass player’s feet that Chile’s possibility at glory lies – a Chile who hasn’t won anything, but wants everything in this 2015 Copa America.