The sun seemingly never sets during summers in St. Petersburg. It perhaps is even logical considering its geographical proximity to Finland, the Land of the Midnight Sun. But on Sunday, at the Zenit Arena, Chile found itself under the crepuscular light,
as it lost 1-0 to Germany in the Confederations Cup final.
After a 99-year wait for silverware, the Chileans have had three magical summers, winning the Copa America twice. Another trophy here would have further embellished the status of Chile's 'Golden Generation' but instead it became an occasion for the world to see how deep-entrenched the German production line of gifted footballers was.
This was a youthful German team with most big stars absent. Julian Draxler, at 23, was the youngest German captain to lead the team into a championship. No fewer than eight players in the squad would have been eligible to play for the under-21 team which won the European Championship crown on Friday.
With just a year left before Germany starts its defence of the World title, one can only marvel at the options coach Joachim Low has; most with big-match ability and title-winning experience.
Germany might not have liked the manner of the victory on Sunday. The winning goal came in the 20th minute after Chile's veteran central midfielder, Marcelo Diaz, dropping deep between the centerbacks as he always does, made an ill-advised turn and lost the ball into the path of Timo Werner.
The striker squared past goalkeeper Claudio Bravo for Lars Stindl to tap in. But for a young side to keep its head under some relentless pressure from Chile, it was admirable.
For a side which builds up play and attacks with such verve, the number of goals Chile scores are few and far between. In both the Copa America finals recently, it failed to score in regulation time. And coming into Sunday's final, it had scored only four in four matches. And against Germany it was the same story.
It pressed with characteristic vigour right from minute one. The best chance of the half came after 19 minutes when the sparkling Arturo Vidal forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen to spill a vicious shot. Alexis Sanchez though failed the bundle in the rebound. There were half-chances galore for Charles Aranguiz, Eduardo Vargas and the rest. But each one seemed smitten by anxiety.
The Germans on the other hand were happy to hit on the counter, the same way they had killed Mexico in the semifinals. Draxler, on the left, made a number of darting runs, partly aided by the overlapping defender Mauricio Isla, often the most-advanced Chilean on the pitch.
After the break, tensions rose and tempers flared. Bravo clashed with Joshua Kimmich, who then got an earful from Vidal, his Bayern Munich teammate. There was controversy with the Video Assistant Referee System too when Gonzalo Jara's elbow on Werner's jaw was video reviewed and confirmed, but received only a caution.
Vidal then skied one over the bar from close and Angelo Sagal, in his first competitive match for Chile, with hardly five minutes left, missed a gilt-edged chance as he failed to turn a cut-back into an empty net. For the Chile fans travelling by the thousands, who had turned the 65,000-seater into a home venue with their cries of “Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Fuerza Chi-le!” it was a bitter pill to swallow.
But Chile can hold its head high. At a time when international football is often dull and dour, it's full-throttle – albeit physically exhausting – attacking football has stood out.
“We know this is the way forward for us,” said Juan Antonio Pizzi, its coach, on the country's style. “We've had confirmation of it again. We go home with no energy left, lots of glory and no trophy. That's football.”
The result: Germany 1 (Stindl 20) bt Chile 0.
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