Ten-man Colombia defeated Uruguay 1-0 to reach the final of the Copa America for the first time in 23 years after an ill-tempered semi-final on Wednesday.

A 39th-minute Jefferson Lerma header sealed victory for the Colombians, who will now face holders Argentina in Sunday’s final in Miami.

It was an anarchic semi-final played in front of a packed and passionate crowd that ended with scuffles on the field and fighting in the stands, including several players who had climbed in among supporters amid the flying punches.

Colombia, despite having Daniel Munoz sent off just before the interval and facing plenty of Uruguay pressure, hung on for a famous victory to the delight of their massive following of fans.

The win was the 28th game without defeat for Colombia, setting a new record for the team.

The downtown streets of the North Carolina city were packed with partying fans in bright yellow Colombia jerseys hours before the kick-off.

Not surprisingly, in such an atmosphere, Colombia started strongly, with their livewire Liverpool winger Luis Diaz doing well to wriggle some space for a cross on the left, finding Daniel Munoz at the back post, but the full-back’s header was off target.

Uruguay were, as always, a threat on the counterattack, and their Liverpool star, Darwin Nunez, was close to finishing off one break when Rodrigo Bentancur found him with a clever pass, but the forward poked his shot wide.

Nunez had another opening when Maximiliano Araujo played him clear in the inside-right channel, but the striker rushed his shot, blasting high and wide.

At the other end, Colombia forced a turnover, which led to James Rodriguez curling in a cross from the right, but Jhon Cordoba’s header was off target.

Lerma Breakthrough

The breakthrough came in the 39th minute when Lerma rose majestically above Jose Maria Gimenez and powerfully headed home Rodriguez’s corner.

It was the sixth assist of the tournament for Rodriguez, with the former Real Madrid midfielder beating the record for most assists in a single Copa, which was set by Lionel Messi in 2021.

Colombia looked to make the most of their momentum, with Richard Rios forcing a save out of Uruguay keeper Sergio Rochet after being played in by Munoz.

But having been so influential down the right in the opening half, Munoz lost his head completely, just before the break, picking up a second yellow card, after landing an elbow on Manuel Ugarte.

It was a moment of madness that left Colombia to defend their lead with just 10 men for the entire second half.

Colombia coach Nestor Lorenzo took off Rodriguez, who was also on a yellow card, in the 62nd minute as Uruguay gradually began to turn their numerical advantage into real pressure.

Nicolas de la Cruz threatened with a low drive before substitute Luis Suarez clipped the outside of the post with a drive from the edge of the box after good work from Federico Valverde.

Valverde, the Real Madrid midfielder, then went close himself with a low drive as Colombia’s back line continued to ride their luck.

Giveaway from Uruguay keeper and fell to Mateus Uribe, who, despite time and space, placed his shot wide of the post.

In stoppage time, Uruguay had a great chance to force penalties when Nunez laid the ball off to substitute Giorgian de Arrascaeta on the edge of the box, but he leaned back and put his shot over the bar.

There was still time for Uribe to waste another chance to make sure of the win, this time hitting the bar in the final minute, but he will be forgiven for his wastefulness by the delirious Colombian supporters.

Uruguay’s Argentine coach, Marcelo Bielsa, took the blame for being unable to craft a win against ten men in the second half.

“Uruguay were clearly in a position to win this game. I take special responsibility for not having been able to establish an advantage when we had the players capable of doing so,” he said.

His compatriot and counterpart, Lorenzo, said he and his team had been rewarded for their positive approach to the game.

“We took the lead, the risk, and we were even brave. When we were down one, we kept two strikers, and that is an act of courage that was rewarded,” he said.

The celebrations were marred by ugly scenes in the stands, which will concern organizers CONMEBOL ahead of a final that is sure to attract huge numbers of Argentines as well as Colombians.

With AFP