Tabarez: It was going well until Alexis appeared

Juan Antonio Pizzi believes teamwork, and not individual brilliance, earned his Chile side their 3-1 victory over Uruguay in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying, but the coach on the opposite bench in Santiago disagrees.

Alexis Sanchez’s purposeful dart from the halfway-line helped set up La Roja’s equaliser. The 27-year-old then conned Matias Vecino with an exquisite dummy before volleying the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the box, before masterfully completing his brace to put the result beyond doubt.

“It was going well… then Alexis appeared,” rued Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez. “With all his class, you simply can’t afford to give him space. That’s what he’s capable of.”

Sanchez’s double took him past Ivan Zamorano and into outright second place on Chile’s list of all-time leading marksmen, just one behind Marcelo Salas.

“We value individuals a lot, but I believe this comeback was exclusively indebted to teamwork,” said Pizzi. “Sometimes individuals stand out, such as Claudio , Edu , Alexis, but everyone understands that to we have to do so collectively, and today everyone played their part.

“Individuals speak for themselves. I don’t get anything by praising Alexis, because he is one of the best players in the world. I prefer emphasising the strengths of the group. That’s what allowed us to turn this game around.”

Wide-open race to Russia The result elevated Chile to fourth – the final automatic qualification berth – one point behind Ecuador and three shy of Uruguay. Argentina and Colombia are, however, just one and two points behind Pizzi’s side respectively.

“It’s wide open,” said the Argentina-born former Spain target man. “There’s very little difference between the teams. The standings are very changeable and it’s going to be like this until the end."

Chile have competed in nine World Cups – a total surpassed by only three South American sides, namely Brazil (20), Argentina (16) and Uruguay (12).

La Roja’s best campaign came on home soil in 1962, when they beat Switzerland, Italy, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, before falling 4-2 to a Garrincha-inspired Brazil in a thrilling semi-final. Amusingly, when Eladio Rojas blasted home a long-range winner in that game against the Soviets, he immediately ran and hugged Lev Yashin because he couldn’t believe he’d scored past the legendary goalkeeper!