Portugal’s reward for topping Group A on goal difference is a semi-final against Copa América champions Chile, who finished second in Group B after 1-1 draws against Australia and Germany. Fernando Santos’ team secured top spot with a convincing 4-0 win over the weakest side in the tournament, New Zealand, who have now lost five matches this month.
Portugal took the lead against Mexico twice in their opening fixture and looked to have stolen all three points somewhat fortuitously when Southampton right-back Cédric Soares scored his first international goal but Héctor Moreno popped up with a last-gasp leveller for Mexico. Cristiano Ronaldo’s headed goal gave them a narrow 1-0 win over hosts Russia in their second game before they rounded things off by hammering the Kiwis. All told, things have gone as expected so far for Portugal.
They will play Chile without Raphaël Guerreiro, who limped off against Russia with an expected broken leg. Eliseu has filled in for Guerreiro at left-back in a team that has changed a lot over their three matches so far. Cristiano Ronaldo has started all three games – and won man of the match awards for all three – but as many as 18 different players have earned starts from Santos. André Silva and Bernardo Silva should keep their places for the semi-final after fine performances against New Zealand, with William Carvalho and André Gomes at risk of losing out.
Chile, meanwhile, haven’t really lived up to expectations. They won just one of their group games, against Cameroon, and took 82 minutes to break their resolve. They had to come from behind to earn a 1-1 draw with Australia and were riled by Australia’s physical, high-pressing approach. Santos will have taken note.
While Portugal have a number of exciting young players to choose from, this Chile squad is short of depth with very few emerging talents to inspire great confidence. So far only one player under the age of 27 – defender Paulo Díaz – has started a game for Chile.
All eyes will be on Alexis Sánchez, whose goal against Germany was his 31st this season, and Cristiano Ronaldo, whose penalty against New Zealand was his 55th goal in 54 matches this season. Sánchez has moved ahead of Marcelo Salas as Chile’s all-time top goalscorer, while Ronaldo is just two short of Pelé’s 77 goals for Brazil. Whoever has the edge on Wednesday may just decide what is likely to be a tight affair.
An experimental Germany squad have reached the semi-finals as winners of Group B but not without the odd hairy moment along the way. Bernd Leno had a game to forget in their opening fixture against Australia and Marc-André ter Stegen didn’t exactly cover himself in glory against Cameroon, so underdogs Mexico will hope to exploit weaknesses in the Germany defence. Conceding to Chile is no disgrace, but shipping two goals to Australia and another against 10-men Cameroon suggests the weaknesses in this inexperienced Germany squad are at the back.
That said, there have been positives in attack for Die Mannschaft. Captain Julian Draxler has looked bright. His sumptuous assist for Kerem Demirbay’s thunderous strike against Cameroon showcased his quality, while Leon Goretzka, Lars Stindl and Timo Werner have also weighed in with goals.
Werner bagged a well taken brace against Cameroon and may well have earned a start up front on the back of an excellent season with RB Leipzig, scoring 21 goals in the Bundesliga. For all of their success in recent years, Germany have been on the lookout for a striker to replace Miroslav Klose for some time and the 21-year-old may be the long-term answer to their prayers. He, along with Draxler, Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Julian Brandt represent the future of the national side, and the Confederations Cup has offered them valuable tournament action.
Mexico are the only team in the tournament who have won the Confederations Cup before – when they hosted the event in 1999 and beat Brazil 4-3 in the final – and their squad has a considerable amount of international experience. Juan Carlos Osorio, the first Colombian to manage Mexico, can call upon players such as their all-time top scorer Javier Hernández and Giovani dos Santos, who are both on course to reach 100 caps before their 30th birthdays, while 30-year-old Andrés Guardado has racked up an incredible 138 appearances already.
Like Chile, however, they could use some fresh blood in attack, so the decisive goal from 21-year-old winger Hirving Lozano against Russia will give them some confidence. Previously linked with a move to Manchester United, the youngster joined Guardado at Dutch champions PSV on a six-year contract earlier this month and is one to watch. Lozano started from a wide position in the 2-1 win over Russian on Thursday as Osorio dropped his unsuccessful experiment with a back three.
Mexico have been in a losing position in all three of their games so far and, while Germany’s defence is likely to give them chances to score should they fall behind once more, the world champions should have enough quality to win a high-scoring encounter.