Chile's Alexis Sanchez celebrates
Chile's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring his side's third goal during a Copa America Group C soccer match against Japan at the Morumbi stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, June 17, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Sao Paulo: Chile began their Copa America defence in emphatic fashion with a thumping 4-0 win over tournament guests Japan on Monday with Manchester United misfit Alexis Sanchez scoring for the first time in five months.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa champions took the lead late in the first half with a towering header from midfielder Erick Pulgar.

Journeyman striker Eduardo Vargas then continued his remarkable consistency for his country by scoring at a fourth consecutive major tournament and doubling Chile’s lead in the 54th minute with the help of a deflection.

Sanchez made it 3-0 with a diving header from close range in the 82nd minute, Chile’s all-time top scorer punching the air in delight after enduring a frustrating season with United compounded by a knee injury suffered in March.

A minute later Sanchez laid on a pass for Vargas to score again, a classy chip, which saw him become Chile’s top scorer in the Copa America (12) and replace Marcelo Salas as the country’s second all-time leading scorer behind Sanchez.

Sanchez said he had come through one of the worst periods of his career recently.

“For six weeks I felt worse than I ever have before,” he said. “I struggled in the first half as I felt stifled but in the second half I was more relaxed and played with more freedom and excitement.”

The win put Chile joint top of Group C with Uruguay, who hammered Ecuador 4-0 on Sunday.