Chile’s ageing players are like fine wine, coach Reinaldo Rueda said ahead of their Copa America semi-final against Peru.
“As they get older, with more maturity, they get better,” the Colombian said about Chilean players.
Eleven of the reigning two-time champions 23-man squad are over 30, including key players such as captain Gary Medel, midfielder Arturo Vidal and forward Alexis Sanchez.
“Through their professionalism, this team has been rejuvenated since the tough psychological blow of missing the World Cup” in Russia last year.
“And we have the good fortune to have a large percentage of players that have already played in (Copa) semi-finals.
“With the football maturity this group has, I hope they have the intelligence to decipher Peru’s game.
“They’re an experienced group with several World Cups behind them, and they need to show that on the pitch.” Chile are the overwhelming favourites for Wednesday match, not just because they’re the defending champions.
In their quarter-final they had two goals disallowed by VAR before deservedly defeating Colombia on penalties.
Peru, meanwhile, needed VAR to come to their rescue three times against Uruguay before triumphing in a shoot-out. That came after they were hammered 5-0 by Brazil in their final group match. But Peru’s Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca is confident that his side are getting their confidence and form back after that blip.
“We’re super motivated,” he said. “We’re an emotional team that has been forged through adversity and in football terms were rediscovering ourselves.
“We can beat great teams, as we have done in this tournament, but mental fortitude is our strength.” And having qualified for the last World Cup, where Chile missed out, Gareca says his side are a different proposition to what they were a few years ago.
“We’ve changed quite a bit,” he said.
“So were different now: mature, mentally strong and very soon well rediscover our footballing attributes.”
Both sides will have to be wary of the others top striker with Chile led by Eduardo Vargas and Peru spearheaded by Paolo Guerrero. The two attackers are the leading active goalscorers in Copa history.
“Vargas is a very good forward, hes playing in a good league and hes a key element for everything his national team does in attack,” Gareca said of the Chilean who plays for Tigres in Mexico.
“Chile have forwards who are hard to mark, they’ve known each other for many years now, were going to have to keep maximum concentration to tackle these type of players.”
Rueda used to coach Guerrero at Brazilian club Flamengo and first came across the Peruvian when he was Colombias under-17s coach.
“Paolo is a born goalscorer, I’ve know him since he was a kid,” said Rueda.
“He’s very effective, forceful, we need to keep high concentration to counter his movement, because we know how good a forward he is.”
Peru midfielder Yoshimar Yotun said no-one has paid any attention to Peru thus far but insisted they have proved they deserve to be in the semi-finals and are “ready to make history.”
“We’ve always flown under the radar but by working hard we’ve managed to get this far. We’ll defend our colors till death,” he said.