There can be no doubt about it: Germany are the best footballing nation in the world. Two days after their under-21 squad won the European Championship, a weakened senior team – eight of whom are eligible for the youth side – beat Chile in a thrilling game to lift the Confederations Cup.
When Joachim Löw travelled to Russia without Marco Reus, Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng, the German manager was heavily criticised. “I feel vindicated,” he said before the match. Following his team’s performance in Saint Petersburg Löw has every right to gloat. Twelve months out from the 2018 World Cup the reigning champions are strong favourites to become only the third side in history to defend their title successfully.
Fifa’s controversial video assistant referee (VAR) technology was once again under the spotlight after Chile’s Gonzalo Jara remained on the pitch despite landing an elbow in Timo Werner’s face during a second-half challenge. The foul was brought to the attention of the Serbian referee, Milorad Mazic, who reviewed the footage from the touchline but only cautioned Jara.
Löw diplomatically suggested it “could have been worthy of a red card” while the Chile manager, Juan Antonio Pizzi, refused to comment. The incident will fuel debate about the potential use of VAR at next year’s World Cup, with Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, recently backing the technology.
The final began with a surreal all-singing, all-dancing closing ceremony, which paid homage to Russian history, past Confederations Cup winners and the 6,000-strong army of tournament volunteers. As fans filed into the controversial Saint Petersburg Stadium in glorious afternoon sunlight, a giant Mexican sombrero, the former Brazil striker Ronaldo and Russian pop stars graced the field. Despite both nations playing five games in 14 days neither manager made concessions to fatigue; South America’s champions, Chile, named an unchanged line-up and Germany replaced one defender.
Lars Stindl’s tap-in was enough to give Germany the Confederations Cup, but they were given a serious working over by Chile who had plenty of chances to score themselves
Chile had the better of the opening encounters, Alexis Sánchez threatening as he floated between the three-man German defence. By his standards the Arsenal forward has been quiet in Russia while rumours swirl of a transfer to Manchester City. But Sánchez displayed dangerous movement and creative link-up play with Arturo Vidal early on.
Chile had a golden opportunity in the 19th minute when the Barcelona goalkeeper, Marc-André ter Stegen, parried a long-range Vidal effort towards an onrushing Chilean forward line. But the two-times Copa América champions failed to convert and Germany launched a rapid counter-attack. Although Chile initially neutralised the move, a terrible mistake by Marcelo Díaz allowed Werner to collect the ball just inside the penalty area. He passed across an empty goalmouth to Lars Stindl, who tapped in for his third goal in four games.
The first half continued in a similar vein. Chile looked the better team but were unable to capitalise on chances while Germany created real danger on their occasional forays forward. Julian Draxler shot wide in the 40th minute while Leon Goretzka should have doubled the advantage before the interval.
Chilean pressure grew in the second half and a German defence that had not managed a clean sheet all tournament was sorely tested. Sánchez continued his inconsistency, driving through Germany’s midfield one moment and looking petulant the next. In the 83rd minute the Chile substitutes Edson Puch and Ángelo Sagal combined, Puch brilliantly flicking a ball back from the byline only for Sagal to blaze over from close in with his first touch.
The latter stages were punctuated by on-field disputes. Vidal and Joshua Kimmich, Bayern Munich team-mates, were booked following one spat while the game threatened to descend into violence when frustrated Chile players piled on a prone Emre Can in an attempt to retrieve the ball. The tournament’s golden glove winner, Claudio Bravo, intervened in the mêlée and received a yellow card for his troubles.
The ill-tempered conclusion did not dampen Löw’s spirits. The champagne-soaked 57-year-old was full of praise for his squad, the youngest at the tournament. “The fact that these young players have won this trophy is a historic achievement. It’s unique in Germany history,” Löw said.
“It is just outstanding: players with so little international experience, with so few caps in other final matches, have been playing at the top level of quality.”
With heat preventing Qatar from hosting a World Cup warm-up event in the summer of 2021, the Confederations Cup faces an uncertain future. Infantino refused to confirm its continuing existence on Saturday, saying only that his organisation would “analyse”the competition. If Germany’s triumph over Chile is the last Confederations Cup match, the tournament, often derided, has gone out with a bang.