Chile undeterred by severe weather, Colombian fans in Copa semifinal win

CHICAGO — The Colombian fans were still standing near their seats more than 90 minutes after the Copa America Centenario semifinal between their Cafeteros and Chile was supposed to have ended.

"You can do it," they cheered to their players in the 65th minute. The match was still going, delayed more than two hours because of severe weather that blew into Soldier Field just after referee Joel Aguilar blew the whistle for halftime. 

But the fans' effort was more admirable than the players they were cheering on. While the ball was rolling, more slowly as it left a spray in its path because of the water-logged pitch, the match had functionally ended minutes before, or maybe earlier.

Chile picked up where it left off in a 7-0 thrashing of Mexico in the quarterfinal and was back on the scoreboard in the seventh minute. Jose Pedro Fuenzalida came forward down the right side and sent in a pass that Juan Cuadrado tried and failed to clear. Charles Aranguiz, who was vital in the middle of the park with Arturo Vidal suspended and Marcelo Diaz injured, scored the opener in the seventh minute. Four minutes later, it was Fuenzalida tapping in his own easy goal, following up into an empty net after Alexis Sanchez's shot pinged off the post.

In addition to the work Aranguiz put in, Francisco Silva also deserves praise. It was a tough absence for Chile to overcome, but that's what the team has done since losing the first match this tournament. Against a stout Bolivia, against a Panama team that had an early lead, against a Mexico side that had thousands of supporters backing it in California, and now against a Colombian side.

The weather delay could've benefited Colombia. Manager Jose Pekerman's men went into the break with a bit of momentum, despite trailing, 2-0. Colombia had found a few chances at goal as Chile protected its early lead. The Colombian side came back out to cheers, and rising star Marlos Moreno replaced Edwin Cardona, who had been ineffective in the first half. Instead, it was Chile that continued to exert control over the temp of the game.

In the 66th minute, Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina made a superb save as the ball again came from Chile's right side and Erick Pulgar put a header that was destined for the back of the net before the Colombian keeper made the stop. But despite his quality play Wednesday, and throughout the tournament, he couldn't stop Chile. In the 75th minute, Pekerman pulled out another stop. He took off left back Frank Fabra, who had been poor as Chile overloaded the right side, and went to a three-man back line. He put on another forward, Carlos Bacca, to try and find something late.

But Chile's defense stayed firm. The center-back pairing of Gary Medel and Gonzalo Jara gave up no space to a Colombian attack with James Rodriguez trying to get free in the middle. Marcelo Isla and Jean Beausejour were able to pin back Colombia's fullbacks, Fabra and Santiago Arias, and keep them from helping James and Co.

In South American soccer circles, it's said a team is "putting on a dance" when they're having no trouble with their opposition. And so it is for Chile as it enters the Copa America Centenario final. It will be an enticing rematch of the 2015 final, one in which the Chilean cueca won out over the Argentine tango. Neither team has missed a step in the knockout stage. Putting one foot wrong could make all the difference Sunday.

Read 338 times Last modified on Friday, 24 June 2016 02:53