by Lewis Ambrose
After a group stage which was low on high-quality football, Chile have emerged as one of the strong favourites to win the Copa América on home soil.
The quarter-final stage of the competition kicks off on Wednesday night in Chile – Thursday morning in the UK (0:30 BST) – and Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez is key to the host’s hopes of winning the competition for the first time since it began 99 years ago.
Standing between them and progression are current holders Uruguay, so Alexis and co. will have to be on song if they want to reach the semi-final stage of a competition they have a great chance of winning.
Ahead of the game, Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli has been praising Alexis and talking about how vital he is to Chile’s chances.
“Alexis has to play an integral role for the function of the Chilean attack and has to impose himself with his skill and the form he is in,” said the manager.
Chile play a very organised yet fluid style which Alexis thrives in. He’s integral to their intense pressing in an attempt to win the ball back as soon as possible, never letting the opponent settle – it’s a style of play that suits the 26 year-old down to the ground.
Sampaoli also lauded Alexis after the 5-0 win over Bolivia in the final group game.
“We played with a style we want to play and that’s the most important thing for us,” the Argentinian told reporters at the post match press conference.
“Alexis scoring today is very good, for us he’s a key player.
“It’s very important he managed to score goals, he’s very valuable.”
A much sterner test faces Chile in the quarter-final, with current holders Uruguay standing between the host nation and a semi-final.
It is 24 years since Chile last won a quarter-final, managing to reach the semi-finals of the Copa América back in 1991.
All records are there to be broken, and Alexis will be vital if Chile are to set that record straight in Santiago.