Copa America 2019

Sanchez thrives on Chile's special bond

A delighted Alexis Sanchez after scoring for Chile in their 2-1 win over Ecuador during their Copa America match on Friday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A delighted Alexis Sanchez after scoring for Chile in their 2-1 win over Ecuador during their Copa America match on Friday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Reviled by many United fans for his poor form, striker fires Copa champions into last eight

SALVADOR • Chile coach Reinaldo Rueda never doubted Alexis Sanchez would return to form, after the "natural-born goalscorer" fired his side to a 2-1 win over Ecuador in the Copa America.

The 30-year-old striker arrived in Brazil with his reputation in tatters after a miserable season with Manchester United. He started only nine Premier League matches and scored just two goals in all competitions as they finished sixth.

His struggles have been compounded by a run of injuries, including an ankle infection last month.

In Brazil, however, he has been able to lean on the support of his fellow countrymen with whom he won the last two Copas.

"It's not easy to explain, but Alexis has come here and shown a lot of commitment," said Rueda after Friday's match at Salvador's Fonte Nova Arena.

"Perhaps, in Manchester, he does not have the emotional bond he has with his teammates here, that affection.

"He's had bad fortune. United have had problems for a while so he does not have the structure he has here. He has also had injuries, he's lacked consistency, he has lacked continuity."

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    Alexis Sanchez's goals for Manchester United last season, also the number of strikes he has for Chile in two games at the Copa America.

Chile's all-time top scorer, who scored in the 4-0 win over Japan last Monday, helped book his side's place in the quarter-finals with the winner for his 43rd - a smart half-volley early in the second half.

Jose Fuenzalida gave Chile an eighth-minute lead but Enner Valencia equalised for Ecuador from the spot in the 26th minute.

Said Rueda: "We have done brilliant work with Alexis, we have given him a lot of warmth, which is what he needs.

"He has a special connection with the team and the group is very fond of him.

"He can recover because he is a natural-born goalscorer. But he has been anxious after the injuries, he looks after himself well and luckily has been able to rediscover his form."

Sanchez later said he had picked up an ankle injury in the first half but played on because he gives "everything for the national team".

"I have always had the enthusiasm to play but, in England, I've been given few opportunities lately," he said.

"But I'm relaxed because representing your country is the most beautiful thing there is."

Chile top Group C with a perfect six points ahead of their clash with Uruguay at Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana tomorrow.

Ecuador, after a second straight defeat, know they must beat Japan in Belo Horizonte to have any chance of progressing.

"We put in a huge effort but we're making the mistake of switching off and that's why they scored silly goals," said the striker Valencia.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 23, 2019, with the headline 'Sanchez thrives on Chile's special bond'. Print Edition | Subscribe