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10-man Colombia edges Uruguay, advances to Copa final

Colombia’s unbeaten run survived one of its stiffest tests yet on Wednesday night. Now comes the ultimate test for Los Cafeteros: the Copa America final against defending champion Argentina.

Jefferson Lerma headed in James Rodriguez’s corner kick late in the first half and 10-man Colombia held on to reach its first Copa America final in 23 years with a 1-0 victory over Uruguay on Wednesday in Charlotte.

Colombia, unbeaten in a national-record 28 matches, next heads to Miami Gardens, Fla., for the final against Lionel Messi and Argentina on Sunday.

Colombia was considerably the better side on Wednesday for the opening 45 minutes, only to be forced to hold on after Daniel Munoz received his second booking for an elbow thrown into Manuel Ugarte’s torso in first-half stoppage time.

“We were very courageous,” Colombia manager Nestor Lorenzo said through an interpreter. “Even when we were one man down, we left two forwards on the pitch to always have an impact and create some danger.”

Los Cafeteros pushed on through the second half by a significantly pro-Colombian crowd of more than 70,000.

Colombia broke its previous record of 27 matches unbeaten set in the early 1990s by a group of players who finished third in the 1993 and 1995 Copa Americas. Colombia’s only title came as host in 2001.

“They gave us a very important legacy,” Lorenzo said of that early ’90s team. “They left it for us, and that was the foundation for Colombia football.”

Colombia technically could add to its run without winning the title, since losing the final on penalties would count in the record books as a draw.

Rodriguez now has six assists, the most in a single Copa America since the stat was first kept in 2011.

Uruguay, which won all three of its group-stage games, did not score in either of its knockout-phase matches. The loss to Colombia ended influential manager Marcelo Bielsa’s latest bid at a first major title in international play.

“The match was constantly interrupted, it was constantly stop and start,” Bielsa lamented of the second half, through an interpreter. “We should have created more chances and caused damage to the opponent. Even though we had some clear opportunities, we should have generated more goal opportunities than the ones we did.”

Lerma put Colombia in front in the 39th minute after Rodriguez delivered the latest in a tournament full of perfectly struck set pieces.

This one came from a corner dropped onto Lerma’s head at the back post. Lerma outjumped Jose Maria Gimenez to send his header downward, narrowly inside the left post before Uruguay goalkeeper Sergio Rochet could react.

A great start for Los Cafeteros became far more complicated seven minutes later when Munoz rightly received his second caution from referee Cesar Ramos.

Uruguay all-time leading scorer Luis Suarez entered in the 67th minute and immediately made his presence felt in the 71st, striking the outside of the right post with a shot from just inside the penalty area.

However, the insertion of center back Yerry Mina and switch to a five-man back line by Colombia manager Nestor Lorenzo helped limit Uruguay from there.

Colombia’s Mateus Uribe missed the game’s two best late chances, dragging an 88th-minute opportunity low and wide of the left post and seeing another effort in stoppage time deflect off a charging Rochet and then the crossbar.

“He is feeling a bit sad because he’s a lion on the pitch and wants more,” Lorenzo said of Uribe. “I hugged him and I told him without him we wouldn’t be where we are, so that he has to hold his head up high.”

Uruguay will remain in Charlotte to face Canada in Saturday’s third-place match, in what will be La Celeste’s best finish at the tournament since winning the 2011 title. However, Uruguay could be short-handed if CONMEBOL issues punishments in relation to a post-match fight on Wednesday.

After a scuffle with Colombian players at the center circle following the final whistle, multiple Uruguayan players wound up fighting fans in the stands. Darwin Nunez and Ronald Araujo were identified by multiple media reports as two of the Uruguayans involved in the melee.

Uruguay defender Jose Maria Gimenez said, according to The Athletic, that he and his teammates were defending their families from Colombian supporters.

–Field Level Media

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