Leading Chile to the Copa America final was a dream come true for coach Jorge Sampaoli, who felt relief after the hosts overcame nerves to secure victory over 10-man Peru on Monday night.
Eduardo Vargas scored a double to fire Chile to a 2-1 win at Santiago's National Stadium over a gallant Peru, who had Carlos Zambrano dismissed early in the first half.
Chile will play the winners of Tuesday’s semi-final between Argentina and Paraguay for a shot at their first title in the tournament’s 99-year history.
“It was our obligation to get Chile to the final, we knew it from the first moment,” Sampaoli told reporters.
“It’s an incredible dream and even more so as hosts.”
Sampaoli said nerves had made the win more difficult than needed, even with Chile one man up for most of the match.
“Confusion complicated us in a game that we should have secured much earlier,” he added.
“Of all our Copa games this was the most difficult because we didn’t know how to define.”
Peru coach Ricardo Gareca praised the hosts, saying Chile were “a firm candidate (to win the Copa), it was from the beginning and continues to be.”
Peru gave Chile a real run for their money despite playing most of the match with a man less, Chile defender Mauricio Isla acknowledged.
“We said it in the changing room afterwards. It wasn’t the best match we’ve ever played. Peru made things really difficult for us, even with one man fewer,” Isla said.
“I think the pressure got to us. We were a little bit tired and Peru made things quite difficult.”
Zambrano was sent off in the 20th minute for a challenge on Charles Aranguiz and Chile took a 1-0 lead just before the break.
But the Peruvians never gave up and equalised through a Gary Medel own goal before Chilean striker Vargas scored his second of the night to seal his side's 2-1 victory.
Chile, in the final for the first time in 28 years, will face the winner of Tuesday’s second semi-final between Argentina or Paraguay.
“Everyone wants a final against Argentina but look out for Paraguay, they’re a very strong team,” Isla said.
Peru's veteran striker Claudio Pizarro lamented Zambrano's dismissal but praised his team mates for their attitude.
“With 11 against 11 it might have been a different story but that’s the way it is,” he said. “We had to play with 10 men from the start and despite that I think the team played really well, fighting until the end.”
Peru will now face the losers of Tuesday’s match for third place.
“We have to get our concentration back and recover because we still have an important game left,” Pizarro said.
Meanwhile Paraguay coach Ramon Diaz, famous for his motivational methods, revealed on Monday he owes his squad two pickup trucks plus a third if they upset Argentina in their Copa America semi-final.
Argentina are favourites to win Tuesday’s match in the northern city of Concepcion and reach a final against hosts Chile.
“Did I promise the squad something? Ask the players, they’ve already won two,” Argentine Diaz told a media conference, laughing.
Striker Edgar Benitez later confirmed: “We’ve already won two pickups off him and we’re going for the third.”
Diaz said Paraguay's run to the last four had been spurred by the team's desire to make up for their failure to reach last year's World Cup finals in Brazil.
“I believe in the thirst for revenge of this team, that’s why we’ve got to this stage,” he said.
If Paraguay win they will reach their second successive final after the 2011 tournament when Gerardo Martino, now in charge of Argentina, was coach.
Paraguay fought back from two goals down for a 2-2 draw with Martino’s Argentina in their opening group match, only Diaz’s fourth in charge.
“I like it that the team have the fortitude to turn (bad) situations around, we have a spirit that I like,” Diaz said.
His team has a number of veterans from the Paraguay side that reached the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in 2010 but the Argentine singled out 21-year-old midfielder Derlis Gonzalez for special praise.
Gonzalez struck the penalty equaliser against Brazil in their quarter-final then the decider in the 4-3 shootout win that sent them through.
“(Gonzalez) had the character to kick two penalties at very difficult instances,” Diaz said.
Martino was in charge of Paraguay for five years, including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and is well aware of their never-say-die attitude.
“With any team, but especially Paraguay who I coached and know, when you have the chance to finish the job, do it, because they have a lot of pride,” he told reporters of their first loss to Paraguay at the tournament.
“It’s clear we have a problem finishing ... If we can change that we’ll be good.”