In one of the oddest tournament knockout matches in memory Chile outlasted Colombia and a two-hour-plus weather delay to win 2-0 Wednesday night in Chicago to set up a dream Copa America Centenario Final versus Argentina Sunday evening at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Chile entered this special 100th-anniversary celebration of the CONMEBOL, or South American, Championship with a bit of a collective chip on its shoulder at the idea of having to defend a title that it won just a year ago.
La Roja defeated Argentina on penalty kicks in last year’s regularly scheduled Copa America but the defending champions came into the Copa 100 a bit under the radar, with most of the spotlight focused on Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, and the United States as the host nation.
But Chile made the world sit up and take notice last Saturday when they demolished Mexico 7-0 in Santa Clara, and against Colombia on Wednesday night, La Roja picked up right where it left off against El Tri.
The same swarming style that was too much for Mexico had Colombia down by two goals 11 minutes into Saturday’s Copa semifinals.
Charles Aránguiz opened the scoring in the seventh minute aided by a poorly directed defensive header by Colombian attacker Juan Cuadrado. Less than four minutes later José Fuenzalida pounced on a rebounded Alexis Sanchez shot to complete the night’s scoring.
The game started under storm warnings and the weatherman was proved correct during the halftime interval as the Illinois skies were illuminated with brilliant but frightening lightning strikes. Soon the stands at the Chicago Bears famous home were empty as fans heeded the scoreboards ominous warning to seek immediate shelter.
After a two and one-half hour storm delay, the players finally returned to the field while the fans had repopulated the stands, in good spirits despite the long break.
Despite the best efforts of the squeegee crew, the field was still a sodden mess leaving the players to splash and slide through the final 45 minutes with a place in the Copa America final at stake.
It is often said that if a referee goes unnoticed then he has probably done a good job, this was not the case for Joel Aguilar last night as the lead official commanded the spotlight in the opening stages of the second half.
First, Aguilar waved play on when Colombia’s Daniel Torres looked to have earned a penalty kick on a takedown by La Roja defender Gonzalo Jara. Then in the 57th minute, Aguilar presented a second yellow card to Los Cafeteros midfielder Carlos Sanchez, a judgment that seemed unduly harsh.
Despite the field conditions and the numerical disadvantage Colombia battled to the end but Chile and keeper Claudio Bravo maintained the clean sheet. It was another impressive performance by Chile, its fourth consecutive win since opening the Copa with a 2-1 loss to finals opponent Argentina.
Colombia missed striker Carlos Bacca, who came on late due to injury worries but Chile impressed as they shrugged off the absences of midfielders Arturo Vidal and Marcelo Diaz, as well as a first half injury to yet another midfielder, Pedro Pablo Hernandez, who did not return.
Colombia now moves on to the Copa America Third Place game, a rematch of its 2-0 Copa opening win over the United States this Saturday in Glendale, Arizona while Chile prepares to defend its Copa crown against Argentina and fan favorite Lionel Messi.