Alexis Sanchez flourishing at 2019 Copa America because of 'emotional bond' with teammates, says Chile manager
Manchester United forward Sanchez hits second-half winner against Ecuador to send Chile through to Copa America quarter-finals
Chile manager Reinaldo Rueda said Alexis Sanchez is flourishing at the 2019 Copa America because of his "special connection" with his teammates.
Sanchez scored only two goals during a miserable 2018/19 season at club side Manchester United, with the forward struggling with form and injuries since moving from Arsenal 18 months ago.
His poor return coincided with United missing out on Uefa Champions League football after limping home in sixth place in the Premier League, prompting some critics to label him as United's most costliest mistake in their history.
In Brazil, however, Sanchez, 30, has been able to lean on the support of his international team mates, with whom he won the last two editions of the Copa America.
On Friday he took his Copa America goal tally to two goals in as many games with a 51st-minute winner against Ecuador at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador to ensure Chile's progress to the quarter-finals.
"It's not easy to explain, but Alexis has come here and shown a lot of commitment and perhaps in Manchester he does not have the emotional bond he has with his teammates here, that affection," Rueda told a news conference.
"He's had bad fortune because Manchester 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."
Jose Fuenzalida gave reigning champions Chile an eighth-minute lead but Enner Valencia equalised for Ecuador from the spot on 26 minutes
Sanchez bagged the winner, his 43rd goal for his country, but Chile finished with 10 men after Gabriel Achilier's red card a minute from time.
Sanchez was also on target in the 4-0 win over Japan as Chile, winners of the past two editions of the South American showpiece, became only the second team behind Colombia to confirm their place in the last eight.
"We have done brilliant work with him, 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," added Rueda.
"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 revealed afterwards that he turned his ankle during the first half, aggravating an old injury.
"I think I have a sprain, I hope it's not too serious. At half-time they strapped it up, I played on with a bit of pain," he said.
Chile top Group C with a perfect six points ahead of their clash with Uruguay at Rio's iconic Maracana on Monday.
Ecuador are left staring elimination in the face after a second straight defeat, knowing they must beat Japan in Belo Horizonte on Monday to stand 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," Valencia said.
"We'll try and beat Japan and then see where that takes us."
Updated: June 22, 2019 09:06 AM