Jose Fuenzalida has waited patiently for his chance with Chile. He was part of their squad for the 2014 World Cup and again when they lifted the trophy at last year's Copa America, but didn't see a single minute of action in either tournament. At 31, it seemed that his moment may have passed, but at the Copa America Centenario, he is finally getting his long-awaited opportunity to shine.
Fuenzalida has taken it gladly, with solid displays against Panama and Mexico, followed by a decisive showing in Chile's semifinal victory over Colombia. He provided the cross that led to the first goal and then scored the second after quickly reacting to tap in the rebound from a low shot off the post from Alexis Sanchez. Fuenzalida also tracked back diligently throughout, providing good cover for Mauricio Isla, and was key in Chile's progress to the final.
Such a scenario seemed highly unlikely upon Fuenzalida's return to Chilean football with Universidad Catolica at the start of the year. He was booed by supporters who were unwilling to forget or forgive his spell with local rivals Colo-Colo. And after 18 months of sporadic football at Boca Juniors, it looked as if his best might be behind him.
But Fuenzalida gradually found his rhythm and went on to start each of Catolica's last six matches of the campaign. He opened the scoring in the derby victory over Universidad de Chile and then completed his redemption by notching the club's title-winning goal with a deftly flicked, near-post header in the 85th minute of their final match of the season at home to Audax Italiano. With that, Catolica sealed their first league title in six years.
It was not a great surprise that Fuenzalida was then named in Chile's Copa America squad. He is, in many ways, the perfect squad member: adaptable, hard working, intelligent and willing to wait his turn. But he is as shocked as anyone by the amount of playing time he has received in the United States.
"I never expected to be a protagonist in this competition," he admitted in the wake of the semifinal triumph.
"You are always happy to receive the call-up ... but I've never been as much of a protagonist as I am this time around. I have to thank the coaching staff because they have displayed a lot of confidence in me."
That faith has been handsomely repaid. Fuenzalida came off the bench to score the late consolation goal in Chile's opening 2-1 defeat to Argentina; he linked well with Isla down the right and provided an assist for Sanchez as the team showed glimpses of their former selves in the 4-2 win over Panama. Fuenzalida then filled in well at right-back in the 7-0 thrashing of Mexico. All of that before his excellent performance in the victory over Colombia.
Fuenzalida's reward is a likely place among the starting XI when Chile take to the field on Sunday to face Argentina in a repeat of last year's final. The match will represent the fourth time the sides have squared off in the past 12 months. Juan Antonio Pizzi has studied tapes of the previous three meetings and is intent on ensuring his side stifle Lionel Messi -- just as they did in last year's final under Jorge Sampaoli. But Chile could also have to deal with a potent threat down the other side of the Argentina attack, where Angel Di Maria did damage during the Chileans' group-stage defeat.
Di Maria's participation in the final is still in serious doubt, but if he does make it, then Fuenzalida will have an important role to play in assisting Isla down the defensive right. Argentina's left-back Marcos Rojo has been aggressive on both sides of the ball during this tournament, and Fuenzalida would have to be vigilant in tracking Rojo and stepping back to provide cover against counter-attacks whenever Isla drives forward.
If Fuenzalida can combine that sort of defensive contribution with the hustle and well-timed runs in behind that characterised his display against Colombia, then he could be just as decisive in Sunday's final.
And if he can play an active part in Chile's conquest of a second consecutive international trophy, his patience will have been truly rewarded.