SAO PAULO (AP) — Defending Copa America champion Chile is happy to go into its opening match on Monday against Japan with its title hopes being widely downplayed.
“When have we played a tournament as favorites?” Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal said. “Not even in Chile we were favorites.”
The 32-year-old Vidal, striker Alexis Sánchez, defender Gary Medel and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo were the backbone of Chile’s golden generation that won Copa America 2015 — when Chile hosted the tournament — and the Copa America Centenario in 2016 in the United States.
On both occasions, Chile beat Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the final on penalties.
But Chile failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and has shown mediocre development since Colombian coach Reinaldo Rueda took over.
Barcelona’s Vidal, one of the team veterans, insists that Copa America “will see the true Chile” in its opener at the Morumbi stadium in Sao Paulo.
Vidal admitted the failure to qualify for the last World Cup hit hard and triggered thoughts of international retirement.
“Once I wanted to leave Chile, but my heart prevailed and that was more important,” he said.
Former captain Bravo was not included in Chile’s squad by Rueda after an Achilles injury saw him miss the entire season at Manchester City. He will be replaced by 31-year-old Gabriel Arias of Argentina’s Racing. Bologna midfielder Erick Pulgar is likely to be in Chile’s starting lineup.
“We will always be feared from the beginning to the end, we will be a team that pressures from the first moment,” Vidal said.
Japan, one of the guest teams of the tournament alongside Qatar, is returning after 20 years with a young side.
Coach Hajime Moriyasu picked a squad that averages only age 22 with an eye on the Tokyo Olympics next year.