When the defending champions take to the field, they are usually favourites, but that is not the case in the Copa America Centenario quarter-finals.
Title holders Chile will meet Mexico at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California for a spot in the semi-finals of the centenary tournament in the United States.
However, Alexis Sanchez – who returned to form with a brace in the 4-2 win over Panama – Arturo Vidal and Co. are the outsiders against the in-form Mexicans, who are in the midst of a 22-game winning streak.
Chile have failed to reach the lofty heights since Jorge Sampaoli walked away in January, with Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men winning just three of their past seven matches in 2016, though they did emerge victorious in the final two Group D fixtures to finish runners-up to Argentina.
Despite Mexico’s red-hot form, Chile midfielder Jose Pedro Fuenzalida believes the South American champions are the better team.
“When you make a mistake, Mexico lets you know, you are punished immediately,” he said.
“We must be very focused in the game, and assume that they will try to cut our work in midfield. But I think we are better than them.”
Chile will return to Levi’s Stadium for the first time since going down 2-1 to Argentina in their opening Copa America game, a rematch of last year’s final.
Since then, Chile have played in Foxborough, Massachusetts and Philadelphia, but Fuenzalida is not using travel as a potential excuse.
“Yes they have been very long trips, but we have been able to rest, we were able to recover,” said the 31-year-old. “And no doubt we must be at our best against Mexico.”
Group C winners Mexico head to Santa Clara as one of the favourites to win the entire tournament.
Wins over 15-time champions Uruguay and Jamaica, as well as an entertaining 1-1 draw against Venezuela saw Juan Carlos Osario’s outfit – spearheaded by Javier Hernandez – through to the last eight.
Mexico’s almost flawless group phase extended their undefeated run to close to a year, with the CONCACAF Gold Cup champions yet to lose a game since the Copa America 12 months ago, when they were defeated by Ecuador 2-1.
A pre-Copa America friendly victory over Chile helped prolong the unbeaten streak, but star midfielder Hector Herrera said: “The match against Chile served both teams, but now it will be a completely different game.”
The prize for the winner of the quarter-final clash is a semi-final showdown with either Peru or Colombia.
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