Germany claim Confederations Cup as VAR grabs focus again

Joachim Löw’s side have set down a real marker ahead of next year’s World Cup

Germany 1 Chile 0

There can be no doubt about it: Germany are the best footballing nation in the world. Only days after their under-21 squad won the European Championship a weakened senior team – eight of whom are eligible for the youth side – beat South America’s champions, Chile, to lift the Confederations Cup on a night when the video assistant referee was the focus of controversy over a second-half foul.

When Joachim Löw travelled to Russia without Marco Reus, Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng, the German manager received heavy criticism. “I feel vindicated,” he said before the match and after 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.

The final here 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: Chile named an unchanged line-up and Germany replaced one defender.

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, much to the consternation of a scowling Löw in the technical area.

Chile had a great 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. Despite Chile initially neutralising the move, a blunder by Marcelo Díaz allowed Timo Werner to collect the ball just inside the penalty area. He passed across an empty goalmouth to Lars Stindl, who scored his third goal in four games.

The remainder of 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, the youngest German captain at a major tournament, shot wide in the 40th minute while Leon Goretzka should have doubled the advantage before the interval.

In the second half the Chile manager, Juan Antonio Pizzi, opted for a bold substitution. Defensively-minded Díaz made way for the goal-scoring midfielder Leonardo Valencia. Sánchez continued his inconsistency, driving through Germany’s midfield one moment and looking petulant the next.

Tensions increased following a spat between the Bayern Munich team-mates Vidal and Joshua Kimmich, and the Serbian referee, Milorad Mazic, booked both. Mazic was less decisive when Gonzalo Jara's elbow connected with Werner's face in a tackle on the touchline. The foul was brought to Mazic's attention by the Video Assistant Referee and the referee went to the touchline to review the footage. Astonishingly, after careful consideration, Jara received only a yellow card.

Chilean pressure grew as the clock ticked down and Eduardo Vargas drove a hard shot straight at Ter Stegen, who minutes later had to tip wide a Charles Aránguiz attempt. The German defence had not kept a clean sheet all tournament and the Chile substitutes Ángelo Sagal and Edson Puch combined in the 83rd minute, Puch brilliantly flicking a ball back from the byline only for Sagal to blaze over from close in with his first touch of the ball.

The game threatened to get out of control as frustrated Chile players piled on to Emre Can in an attempt to retrieve the ball following a foul. Claudio Bravo and Löw intervened in the mêlée, Bravo receiving a yellow card for his troubles. A free-kick by Sánchez then forced a diving save from Ter Stegen in injury time.

With heat preventing Qatar from hosting a World Cup warm-up event in the summer of 2021, the tournament faces an uncertain future. The Fifa president, Gianni 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 often derided tournament has gone out with a bang.

(Guardian service)

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