For a period in the build-up to the 1-1 draw between Uruguay and Chile, it was anyone's guess as to whether the game would go ahead or not, with the Chilean ranks appearing to be in chaos.

While the Football Federation of Chile (FFC) accepted a group of unnamed players had broken its COVID-secure bubble by bringing a barber into the team hotel, further allegations refused to go away.

Media reports claimed there was a second breach that revolved around several women being brought into accommodation, and head coach Martin Lasarte was apparently considering resigning over the matter.

It didn't stop there. The Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) is said to have asked CONMEBOL to check security footage from the hotel to see if there was only the one breach, seemingly in the hope of being awarded the three points in the event of major sanctions.

As it was, three of the Chile players allegedly involved were named in the starting XI in Cuiaba, and perhaps it was predictable – in more than one sense – that one of them put La Roja in front.

Eduardo Vargas latched on to Ben Brereton's clever first-touch offload and burst into the right side of the penalty area. Having noticed he had no one else in support, the Atletico Mineiro forward lashed a right-footed striker beyond Fernando Muslera and into the top-left corner.

Vargas wheeled away and, just before sharing a strong embrace with Chile's unlikely new hero Brereton, the goalscorer made a 'talking' gesture with his hand, presumably showing his disapproval of the chatter surrounding he and his team-mates in the last few days.

In converting, Vargas moved above the likes of Gabriel Batistuta in the Copa America's all-time leading scorers rankings, going joint-fifth with Paolo Guerrero on 14 – the record, shared by Norberto Mendez and Zizinho with 17, is certainly within his reach.

Vargas' need to be withdrawn could play a role in that regard, however, as the 31-year-old went off just before the hour clutching the back of his thigh.

Nevertheless, his job was done to a certain extent, Vargas' goal a devastating show of clinical finishing that Uruguay just haven't seen in recent times – and not just in the Copa America.

La Celeste went into the game without scoring in their previous four games, a run that stretched back to November when Darwin Nunez netted the last in a 3-0 win over Colombia.

They were especially toothless in attack – despite the presence of talismanic duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani – in their first match against Argentina, their 0.1 xG (expected goals) a tournament-low figure only previously achieved by Venezuela (against Brazil and Colombia) in this year's competition.

In fact, at the halfway point on Monday, Suarez and Cavani had only managed one shot on target between them in 135 minutes of Copa football – that solitary accurate attempt coming in the first half in Cuiaba as Claudio Bravo made a necessary, albeit expected, block to deny the Atletico Madrid man.

Of course, a key nuance to the struggles of Uruguay's front two would be that the service to them had been underwhelming – so much so that Suarez appeared determined to try and take matters into his own hands as a cross forced the Chile defence into action just before the break, while he also played a match-high three key passes over the course of the 90 minutes.

It arguably wasn't until the inexperienced Facundo Torres – making just his fourth appearance for Uruguay – came on in the 60th minute that La Celeste started to look genuinely lively in attack, though.

The 21-year-old quickly saw a rasping volley tipped wide by Bravo, and his lovely delivery from the resulting corner was flicked on by Matias Vecino, and the ball subsequently found its way in via a combination of Suarez and Vidal, who was ultimately credited with the own goal.

While further chances came and went at either end, a stalemate felt a fitting end to a match largely lacking in real quality.

But such situations are surely a by-product of the tournament's jeopardy-sapping format, with all but two of the 10 teams involved across the two groups set to reach the quarter-finals.

 

For those in Group A, it's a case of 'do better than Bolivia and you're through' – over the course of their four games, it would be a major shock if either Uruguay were to fail in that regard, while the point here sealed Chile's route through to the next round.

The main thing here for Uruguay was to finally get a goal on the board, even if it was given to Vidal, as it should provide something of a boost to their mentality, especially after significant criticism in the wake of that defeat to Argentina.

As such, it was all hugs and smiles between the two teams at full-time, with Chile and Uruguay well aware that dropping points here won't permanently burst their Copa bubble.

Chile claimed a place in the knockout stages of the Copa America despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Uruguay.

Eduardo Vargas opened the scoring in Cuiaba, but an Arturo Vidal own goal ensured it ended honours even, a result that means Chile can no longer finish bottom of Group A.

It also helped Uruguay get off the mark after defeat to Argentina in their opener, though Oscar Tabarez's side still have work to do reach the quarter-finals of the competition.

A lively start to proceedings saw Edinson Cavani force an outstanding save from Claudio Bravo with a close-range header, only for the Chilean goalkeeper to be denied the glory by a late offside flag.

The officials also waved away Chile claims for a penalty moments later for the same reason, though Martin Lasarte's side would not be denied for long.

Vargas looked to still have plenty to do after a slick one-two with Ben Brereton had taken him into the box, but he produced a brilliant finish from a tight angle to put his team ahead.

And, though Chile subsequently lost defender Guillermo Maripan to injury, Uruguay struggled to create anything of note before the half-time break.

The second period started in a similar fashion, but Chile's hopes were dealt a further blow when Vargas limped off with an apparent hamstring issue.

Aided by a flurry of substitutes, Uruguay began to build pressure, and that told with just over 20 minutes remaining, Vidal adjudged to have got the final touch under pressure as Luis Suarez looked to turn in a Matias Vecino flick-on from a corner.

Boosted by their equaliser, Tabarez's men dominated much of the closing stages, though they were denied a first win of the tournament as an obstinate Chile defence stood firm.

What does it mean? Chile a contender

They may have been pegged back here, but Chile's unbeaten start to this tournament has been an impressive one and no team will look forward to facing them in the last eight.

As for Uruguay, they showed the combination of graft and craft that will surely see them come alive should they secure passage into the business end of the Copa America.

Brereton stands out again

This is proving to be a breakout tournament for England-born Brereton, who followed up a goal against Bolivia last time out with an assist in this one. Chile are clearly benefiting from his presence as a focal point.

Cavani fails to fire

Uruguay would have turned one point into three had Cavani followed his partner in crime Suarez onto the scoresheet, but the Manchester United striker failed to even find the target with his all three of his shots across the 90 minutes.

What's next?

Chile finish off their fixtures in the group stage against Paraguay in Brasilia on Thursday, while Uruguay contest their penultimate game against Bolivia in Cuiaba on the same day.

Ben Brereton does not speak the language and he barely knows his team-mates but the Blackburn Rovers forward won praise after scoring the winner in Chile's 1-0 Copa America victory over Bolivia.

Stoke-On-Trent-born Blackburn star Brereton linked up with Eduardo Vargas for Chile's 10th-minute winner in only his second appearance and first start for his adopted country on Friday.

The 22-year-old, who has a Chilean mother and grandfather, was a surprise call-up for the Copa America but has not disappointed, earning praise from head coach Martin Lasarte.

"It must be very difficult for him to play for a national team where they don't speak the language he speaks," Lasarte said during his post-match news conference following the Bolivia win.

"He is making a great effort and the group is helping him adapt. He had his chance, his goal, he shouted out and he scored."

Brereton finished the match with 18 successful passes out of 20 attempted (90 per cent), three shots on target, one chance created and having scored the winner.

Vargas, who laid off the pass for Brereton's goal, added: "We get along well with Ben. We don't know his language, he doesn't know how to speak Spanish either, but we understand each other very well on the pitch."

Brereton posted on Instagram in Spanish after the game, writing: "Great job everyone. I'm very happy for today's game. We will continue working hard!"

The adoration has been widespread, with former Chile international Mauricio Pinilla tweeting: "My next son will be called Ben!"

Chile have become draw specialists as they look to kick-start their Copa America campaign against Bolivia in Cuiaba on Friday.

La Roja recorded their third consecutive 1-1 draw after Eduardo Vargas' equaliser cancelled out Lionel Messi's superb free-kick against Argentina on Monday.

Copa America champions in 2015 and 2016, Chile have struggled for form since the 2019 tournament, winning just three games (L5, 6D).

Encouragingly for Chile, they have dominated Bolivia in the Copa America amid a run of five wins and a draw in CONMEBOL's showpiece event.

"We must improve the possession of the ball and do it more calmly, not be so direct in some parts of the game because that causes us a lot of wear and tear," Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said following the draw with Argentina, which included six players that featured in the 2015 Copa triumph over La Albiceleste.

"Without possession of the ball we are a very uncomfortable team and we have to continue to maintain that and continue to be aggressive."

Chile head coach Martin Lasarte, who took charge in February, added: "This team didn't want to be beaten, even though they didn't play well. These players are defiant."

Bolivia's Group A campaign got off to a disappointing start – beaten 3-1 by Paraguay on Monday.

Already missing captain and talisman Marcelo Martins due to coronavirus, Bolivia had teenage debutant Jaume Cuellar sent off while leading as Paraguay capitalised on their numerical advantage in the second half.

Bolivia – the 1963 champions who have not progressed from the group stage since 2015 – are set to be without Marcelo again in a situation the country's all-time leading goalscorer is unhappy with.

Marcelo used social media to hit out at CONMEBOL, which relocated the Copa to Brazil from Argentina and Colombia, despite the country being one of the worst hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

"Thanks to you at CONMEBOL for this," Marcelo said in an Instagram post that was later deleted. "It's all your fault. If one person dies, what are you going to do? What matters to you is only money. Is the player's life worth nothing?"

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chile – Eduardo Vargas

With Alexis Sanchez sidelined for the entire group stage, Vargas is carrying the load up front.

Only Sanchez (46) has scored more international goals for Chile than forward Vargas (39).

Vargas' equaliser against Argentina saw him move level with Gabriel Batistuta in the list of the most goals in Copa history. The 31-year-old is only four goals away from matching record holders Zizinho and Tucho Mendez (17).

Bolivia – Ruben Cordano

The unheralded 22-year-old goalkeeper was on the receiving end of three goals last time out, but he still impressed.

No goalkeeper made more saves than Cordano in the opening round of Copa games – eight, double that of Bravo and Venezuela's Joel Graterol in the top three.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Chile are unbeaten in five games against Bolivia at the Copa America (W4 D1), including a 2-1 victory for La Roja in the last meeting during the 2016 edition. The two nations are playing for the third time in Brazil, winning one game apiece.
- Chile have lost just one of their 13 games versus Bolivia in all competitions (W9 D3). However, they are winless in the last two meetings with Bolivia (L1 D1), their worst winless run in this process.
- Bolivia have scored in six of their previous eight games played in the Copa America. However, they failed to keep a clean sheet in those matches (L8).

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