clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The controversial end to Bolivia vs. Chile was underserving and unfortunate for Bolivia

Bolivia got robbed by Jair Marrufo.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Referee Jair Marrufo—one of the two American officials employed at the Copa America this year, alongside Mark Geiger—spent around 90 minutes without any sort of controversy at the center of Bolivia and Chile's match in Foxborough. He didn't miss any major calls and has appeared to rebound well from his poor showing in the MLS Cup final last season. But then, he screwed up, because that's what MLS refs do.

At some point really, really late in the game, Marrufo called a bogus handball on a Bolivia defender with the game tied 1-1, giving Chile a penalty-kick that Arturo Vidal finished, robbing La Verde of a huge point against the defending champions and basically handing their opponents a victory in a crucial group-stage match. Before we go in too deep on the Marrufo criticism here, let's take a look at the play in question:

The cross is sent in from outside the box with center back Luis Gutierrez—standing clearly inside of the box—jumping up in an attempt to deflect it. He leaps with his hand latched onto his back and his elbow pushed outward as a result (and thus in a natural position). The ball hits Gutierrez's upper bicep and ricochets toward the byline.

Immediately, the assistant referee—no, not Marrufo—raises his flag and sprints to the penalty marker. When he does this, Marrufo points to the spot and confirms that it will be a Chile penalty, getting surrounded by a series of enraged Bolivian players instantly.

This is a bad call, and one that Marrufo can be faulted for. Yes, he was not in good position, and yes, he was going off advice from his AR, but the center referee is the one who is responsible for making the correct decision in instances like these with such important circumstances. Gutierrez had his arm in a natural, harmless position (behind his back, exactly what you're taught to do) and wasn't even hit in the arm; you could make the argument that it was his shoulder that made contact with the ball.

So I don't agree with the Alexi Lalas. I'm in the majority here: Bolivia got robbed, and they did not deserve this result.

The fact that they were even in the game by this point speaks to their incredible defensive effort. From kickoff, they sat really deep in their own half and conceded basically all possession to Chile, who finished with a Barcelona-level possession percentage:

At times during the game, Bolivia packed nine or 10 or even 11 players into their defensive third, playing what looked like a 5-4-1 formation without a gap at all between the deep-sitting backline and the compact midfield. Yasmani Duk ranged forward every once in a while, but for the most part, they weren't moving. And it worked. Chile were struggling to come up with any sort of creativeness in Zone 14, so they were held without a first half goal despite all the possession they had in dangerous areas.

The numbers weren't the only reason that Bolivia played so well defensively. They were playing organized, disciplined and compact defense, not allowing anybody to run into the box while condensing the channels and doing well to step up when needed. Their emergency defense didn't hurt either; they finished with at least two goal-line clearances.

Coming out of the halftime break, Chile had more ideas in attack and were more determined to put one past Carlos Lampe. Only a minute into the second half, Vidal broke through after forcing a turnover just outside the box. His blazing one-time finish of Mauricio Pinilla's ball across put his side up 1-0 and forced Bolivia to come out of their shell, needing a goal to get the point they sought.

It took 15 more minutes of tentative counter-attacks, but La Verde were able to scrape a goal in the 61st-minute courtesy of Jhasmani Campos's goal of the tournament. Do yourself a favor and watch it if you haven't yet:

Bolivia did it right: They gradually pushed more players forward and started earning set pieces, getting balls into the box and finally scoring with this absolute beauty. But after this amazing tally, they reverted back to park the bus mode.

Like the first half, Chile struggled to generate serious chances following Campos's goal. They put plenty of balls into the box and attempted shot after shot, but most of the time, they resulted in clearances or goal-kicks. That is, until the fateful play late in second half stoppage time. The cross was sent, the supposed handball was called, and Vidal finished it.

Maybe this is karma for Bolivia's poor handling of an unconscious player just minutes earlier. Maybe they should have scored the one chance they had after the PK. Whatever it was, Bolivia got cheated.

Classic CONCACAF, am I right?