From Blackburn to Brazil: Chile revelation Brereton lighting up the Copa America along with Messi & Neymar

From Blackburn to Brazil: Chile revelation Brereton lighting up the Copa America along with Messi & Neymar

July 2, 2021, 7:28 a.m.

The 22-year-old Stoke native was excellent in the group stage but faces the game of his life on Friday as the Roja take on the tournament favourites

As Ben Brereton kicked off 2021 with Blackburn Rovers' visit to Birmingham City, he surely could not have imagined that just six months down the line he would be gearing up to face Neymar's Brazil in Rio de Janeiro alongside his new Chile team-mates.

The 22-year-old forward, re-baptised as Brereton Diaz across the Atlantic Ocean, was a shock pick by Martin Lasarte for the Roja's World Cup qualifiers and the Copa America in June and July – only eligible for selection by virtue of his mother being born in the South American nation.

However, he has since wasted no time in endearing himself to the Chilean faithful – despite barely speaking Spanish. Brereton was perhaps the nation's most impressive player during a difficult Group A campaign, impressing more than even legends Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez to help steer Chile into the last eight.

Lasarte's men were not exactly firing on all cylinders in the first round. After opening the Copa with an encouraging draw against Argentina, Chile went ahead against Bolivia thanks to their new Stoke-born star, who broke the deadlock after just 10 minutes with the coolest of finishes to open his international account on his full debut.

Despite racking up 18 shots – 11 of which were on target – they could find no further way past inspirational Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe, and then had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Uruguay when Vidal put past Claudio Bravo, having taken the lead early when Brereton turned provider to set up strike partner Eduardo Vargas.

Defeat to Paraguay and by far their worst performance of the tournament so far followed, and Uruguay's subsequent victory over the Guarani left Chile in the fourth and final qualifying place in Group A, setting up the daunting challenge of meeting the unbeaten hosts in the quarters.

Brereton has nevertheless caught the eye with his strong, intelligent attacking play and work ethic. Brazilian media giant Globo included the youngster in their best group stage XI, sharing the front line with none other than superstars Neymar and Lionel Messi.

Ben Brereton Chile Copa America GFX

With Vidal in erratic form so far in the Copa and Alexis still waiting for his first game due to a calf injury, it is no exaggeration to say that Chile's hopes of upsetting Brazil rest heavily on their Championship gem.

“This was a huge occasion for Ben, but also a difficult one, to play in a team which doesn't speak the language he does,” Lasarte, who has dubbed his new charge 'Big Ben', told reporters following his goal against Bolivia.

“He is making a great effort to understand. His team-mates are also helping a great deal. There are few who are giving him pointers on the language and in the culture too.”

Vargas, a player who seems to come alive with every Copa America, is also pleased with his new colleague: “We were able to adapt really well with Ben, he doesn't know Spanish but we understand each other just fine on the field.”

Aside from a couple of clips of him rather uncomfortably mumbling through the Chilean national anthem, there have been few signs that the culture shock has been overwhelming for Brereton.

There was, admittedly, a moment of anxiety prior to his performing of the traditional initiation song that all new Roja players must go through after making their debut.

“The only song in Spanish that I know is 'Feliz Navidad' (Merry Christmas),” he confessed to La Tercera. Ultimately, he played it safe and belted out the seminal Oasis anthem Wonderwall to a rousing reception from the rest of the squad.

Back home, meanwhile, Blackburn are bracing themselves for a host of suitors as the former England youth international makes the most of this most unexpected of shop windows.

Premier League side Leeds United and La Liga's Real Sociedad have been mentioned as possible destinations for Brereton once he completes his international tour of duty, although his club are determined to tie him down to an extension before opening any talks due to his current deal expiring in just 12 months' time.

Brazil have not lost a competitive match since the 2018 World Cup and, until Sunday's 1-1 draw against Ecuador (with the likes of Neymar, Richarlison and Casemiro benched) were on an 11-game winning streak in official competition.

Chile's chances look slim, but there is reason for optimism. They have the experience across the field to handle this biggest of games, while Tite's hosts will have to be wary of the danger of being caught on the break and letting in Copa America expert Vargas, who would love to notch his 15th goal in the competition at the defending champions' expense.

With him and Brereton on the loose, Chile are, at the very least, capable of giving the favourites a very difficult evening indeed on their own turf.

Source: Goal.com

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