Colombia advances at Copa America with 2-1 win over Paraguay
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 08, 2016 03:48 PM
Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina makes a save during the first half of a Copa America Centenario Group A soccer match against Paraguay at the Rose Bowl, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in Pasadena , Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Although James Rodriguez still has an injured shoulder, it didn't prevent him from lifting Colombia into the Copa America quarterfinals.
Rodriguez scored a goal and set up another in the first 30 minutes, and Colombia clinched a berth in the next round with a 2-1 victory over Paraguay on Tuesday night.
Colombia became the first team to secure advancement to the knockout stage of the tournament with stellar goaltending from David Ospina and another dynamic performance from Rodriguez, who shook off a shoulder problem that made his availability a game-time decision at the Rose Bowl.
The Real Madrid midfielder propelled Colombia to its second win in two matches, following the 2-0 victory over the United States last week in which Rodriguez was injured.
"With (Rodriguez) being such a great star with so much transcendence and desire, we had to be very prudent, but we never wrote him off," Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said through a translator. "Not until this morning did we realize he was well and he could play. We're lucky he recuperated quite well."
Victor Ayala scored Paraguay's first goal of the Copa America in the 71st minute on a long shot past Ospina, who still made a handful of jaw-dropping saves to keep Los Cafeteros in control.
Despite a few defensive struggles, the world's third-ranked team has lived up to its billing so far stateside with a fluid, attacking game built around Rodriguez.
After Carlos Bacca scored on a header from Rodriguez's corner kick in the 12th minute, Rodriguez found the net with an exceptional shot after a long scramble in the box in the 30th minute.
Paraguay was much better in the second half, but Ospina stopped everything except Ayala's exceptional long strike.
"We got the result we wanted, and that always gives us great confidence in what we're doing," Pekerman said. "It's clear to me that we had a great first half, and Paraguay had a great second half. We had to up our game. Paraguay made us quite uncomfortable."
Colombia wraps up group play against Costa Rica in Houston on Saturday, while Paraguay travels to Philadelphia to face the Americans. Paraguay must beat the home team to stay in contention for advancement.
"It took us a little while to get going," Paraguay coach Ramon Diaz said through a translator. "I think we respected them a little too much. ... Our team needs to remember what we did in the second half, because we can do it again (against the U.S.)."
Paraguay will have to win this weekend without midfielder Oscar Romero, who was sent off with his second yellow card in the 81st minute. Diaz was furious with Brazilian referee Heber Lopes' decision.
"We hope the refs don't make as many mistakes as they did today," Diaz said. "Romero is one of the better players of the tournament."
Paraguay tested Colombia's defense throughout an entertaining game, but La Albirroja don't have a player with the skills of Rodriguez — or the reflexes of James' brother-in-law, Ospina.
After Bacca put Colombia ahead with another goal in his strong run of recent play, Rodriguez showed off his skill with his team-leading 16th goal for Los Cafeteros. Surrounded by defenders, Edwin Cardona tipped the ball outside to the charging star, and Rodriguez slotted a pinpoint shot into the far corner of the net.
Ospina, the Arsenal backup, made a fingertip save in first-half injury time to deflect Dario Lezcano's short free kick off the crossbar. He was even better in the second half with a flying, one-handed deflection of a header in traffic.
But Ospina could do nothing against Ayala, who trimmed Colombia's lead and made the final minutes uncomfortable.
Paraguay's task became tougher when Romero was sent off in the 81st minute, getting his second yellow card in three minutes after a defensive sequence in which he pulled roughly on Rodriguez's jersey and wrapped both arms around Guillermo Celis.
"I think we respected them a little too much," Diaz said. "We were very close to tying up the game. (The players) are actually quite angry and disappointed, because there was such a difference between the first half and the second half."
The Rose Bowl crowd of 42,766 was dominated by yellow-clad fans from Los Angeles' vibrant Colombian community and beyond. They gathered in Arroyo Seco several hours before kickoff for food, music and a celebration of a serious championship-contending team.