But now they’re here in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup, both are eager to make the most of their respective moments in the sun – and potentially build a legacy that will see them compete at the top level for years to come.
With a place in the final on the line at the Kazan Arena (LIVE on SBS from Thursday 3:30am, full replay at 3pm), we take a look at two of world football’s new superpowers.
The story so far
Denied victory by Javier Hernandez’s injury-time equaliser against Mexico in the opening match, Portugal knew their destiny would probably come down to defeating Russia on home soil, a task they proved more than capable of after Cristiano Ronaldo’s early winner. A 4-0 hammering of New Zealand capped off an impressive group phase. A tougher group awaited Chile, with all three of their matches hard-fought, especially the epic 1-1 draw against Australia. Their 2-0 win over Cameroon, with both goals coming late, demonstrated their relentless attacking threat.
Portugal 4-4-2: Rui Patrício; Guerreiro, Bruno Alves, Fonte, Soares; Andre Gomes, Carvalho, Moutinho, Quaresma; Ronaldo, Nani
Chile 4-3-3: Herrera; Beausejour, Medel, Jara, Isla; Aránguiz, Díaz, Hernández; Sánchez, Vidal, Vargas
The key match-up
Joao Moutino (POR) v Marcelo Diaz (CHI)
In a game of so many marquee match-ups, this is the first piece of the chess board that needs sorting out – because it will dictate the margins for everything else. Diaz was rested against Australia but should come back in here. Both he and Moutinho are established veterans who occupy the heart of the midfield, and whoever can retain the ball and provide a central presence will give his side a huge advantage. Moutinho in particular will be under pressure if Chile, as expected, launch a full-frontal press that leaves no room for error.
Portugal - Cristiano Ronaldo
There’s no point dallying around this one. The question on CR7 going into this tournament was more about whether he needed a break after single-handedly inspiring Real Madrid to both the La Liga and European Champions League titles, all on the back of his dogged efforts at last year’s European Championships. But the fact is Portugal won’t get many chances better than this to win another major tournament, and at 32, nor will their greatest ever player.
Chile - Arturo Vidal
If you could surmise Chile's style in a single player, it would be Vidal. All-action, all the time, with complete physical, emotional and mental commitment from the first moment to the last. Being at Bayern Munich has calmed his game only somewhat; as soon as he pulls on the shirt of La Roja, Vidal resumes his wonderful status as the mohawk-wearing warrior, intent on causing all manner of destruction. Some may say he's a loose cannon, but he plays on an edge that gives him a magnetic presence for teammates and spectators alike. Probably the most authentic "Latin-style" player in football today.
Portugal: Andre Silva’s goal nous
Having all the attention elsewhere in Portugal’s front-third (primarily directed towards Ronaldo and Nani) may open up opportunities for the deadly Silva. The 21-year old was on the score sheet against New Zealand and looks dangerous either starting or off the bench – the latter of which may be more likely here. Recently signed for €38 million (A$ 56 million) by AC Milan from Porto, he’s clearly one of the world’s best young strikers.
Chile: Alexis Sanchez’s ankle
One of the world’s most explosive strikers, Sanchez has that uncanny ability to seize the ball at full speed and fashion a chance from the most difficult of situations, as Socceroos’ stand-skipper Mark Milligan found out once or twice in their final group match. However, such is the determination of the Arsenal forward in this tournament that he is playing through enormous pain in his ankle, as he revealed in gritty detail on Snapchat last week. How much longer can he put up with it?
Chile 1-0: Portugal cannot be underestimated and have acquitted themselves brilliant so far, qualifying highest in their group and seeing off the host nation. They might have the shining figure of Ronaldo, but Chile’s all-round game is rock-solid and Juan Antonio Pizzi's squad is probably the most battle-hardened in world football.