Alexis targeting Copa America hat-trick
Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez already has more caps and goals to his name than any other player in Chile’s history, and he's hungry for further success with his country this summer.
Our no.7 has been included in their final 23-man squad for the Copa America, which gets under way in Brazil on Friday 14 June.
After a rare summer off last year, following his country's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Alexis will be looking to add to his 41 goals and 124 caps as Chile seek to become only the second nation – and the first since Argentina in the 1940s – to win three successive Copa America tournaments.
As things stand, he’s set to be United’s only representative in Brazil. Marcos Rojo and Sergio Romero have been omitted from Argentina’s 23-man squad, while Fred and Andreas Pereira haven't made the cut for Brazil's final selection.
‘IT’S LIKE DEFENDING YOUR COUNTRY’
Understandably, Alexis is immensely proud of his Chilean heritage and honoured to represent his country on the pitch.
“When you first play for your country you fail to understand the magnitude of playing for Chile,” he told United Review in an exclusive interview last September.
“The first time I wore the shirt, I could not believe it. It’s like defending your country. Now, when you wear Chile’s shirt, it makes your hair stand on end.”
After being a key player in Chile’s back-to-back triumphs in the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, Alexis also expressed his eagerness to help his nation make it a hat-trick this summer.
“When we won our first Copa America in Chile, and the support of all the people, our family and friends… it was very nice for the entire country,” he explained.
“I think the Chileans are going to remember it their whole lives. What is more, we won the same cup twice. The second one too, I think, was a joy for Chile. And to this day they are proud of every player. We need to repeat this triumph, do our best to take Chile to the top.
“I really hope to keep improving, to play another World Cup, to win another Copa America, to keep growing in the national team, scoring more goals, and continuing to give joy to the Chilean people.”
WHAT IS THE COPA AMERICA?
It’s an international tournament organised by South America’s football ruling body CONMEBOL. The competition has generally featured 12 teams from the South American continent but, in recent years, teams from North America and Asia have also been invited to participate.
It’s usually held every four years although a special centenary version in 2016 followed the regular 2015 tournament, to mark 100 years since the Copa America was founded. This year will be the 46th edition of the Copa America – and the 39th to feature Chile.
CHILE'S COPA AMERICA HISTORY
The Chileans, currently coached by former Colombia, Honduras and Ecuador boss Reinaldo Rueda, did not win the Copa America until 2015 but have won the last two editions of the tournament.
They were crowned winners on home soil four years ago after beating Argentina 4-1 on penalties in the final in Santiago, following a goalless draw. Indeed, Alexis netted the decisive spot-kick, slotting it past his future United team-mate Sergio Romero. Fellow Reds star Marcos Rojo also played for Argentina.
Chile then successfully defended their title a year later, in the centenary commemoration tournament in the United States – the first Copa America to be held outside South America. It came down to another penalty shootout against Argentina, following another goalless draw in the final, with Chile prevailing 4-2 on spot-kicks.
After scoring three goals during Chile’s route to glory, Alexis claimed the Golden Ball award for the best player and was also named in the Team of the Tournament.
The triumph in 2015 earned the Chileans a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, where they finished runners-up after a 1-0 defeat to Germany in the final. Before that, Chile had been runners-up in the Copa America on four occasions – in 1955, 1956, 1979 and 1987.
WHEN WILL ALEXIS BE IN ACTION?
Chile are in Group C for this summer's Copa America and face a tough battle to progress to the quarter-finals. Their opening match is against specially invited participants Japan at the Estadio do Morumbi in Sao Paolo on Monday 17 June.
Four days later, Alexis could face his former United team-mate Antonio Valencia as Chile take on Ecuador in Salvador in their second group match. Valencia has been included in Ecuador’s final squad for the tournament.
The Chileans conclude the group phase with another stiff test, against Uruguay – the most successful team in Copa America history with 15 titles. The game will be played on 24 June in the famous cauldron of the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, which hosted the 2014 World Cup final.
From the initial three groups of four nations, the winners, runners-up and the two best third-placed teams will advance to the quarter-finals, which will take place between 27 and 29 June. The semi-finals will follow on 2 and 3 July before the final is held at the iconic Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on 7 July – the day after the third place play-off.
Chile’s group-stage fixtures
Group C: Japan, Monday 17 June KO 17:00 local (midnight BST), Sao Paolo
Group C: Ecuador, Friday 21 June KO 17:00 local (midnight BST), Salvador
Group C: Chile, Monday 24 June KO 17:00 local (midnight BST), Rio de Janeiro
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