Uruguay look to slow surging Colombia

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP):

URUGUAY ARE two wins away from a record-setting 16th Copa America title. Colombia are red hot, having gone 27 consecutive matches without a loss.

Something has to give tonight when the two South American powers clash in the tournament’s semifinals at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The victor advances to face Argentina, who beat Canada 2-0 last night, in the championship game on Sunday in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Uruguay’s Manuel Ugarte scored the winning goal in the fifth round of a 4-2 penalty kick victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals after the teams played to a scoreless draw on Saturday night.

It was a physical match that included 41 fouls and just four shots on goal.

But it was a costly win. Uruguay’s Nahitan Nández was sent off with a red card in the 74th minute for a dangerous tackle and defender Ronald Araújo sustained a muscle injury. Both are out against Colombia.

Now comes another tough test in surging Colombia, who steamrolled into the semis with a dominant 5-0 win over Panama as Jhon Córdoba, James Rodríguez and Luis Díaz all scored in the first half.

“It is a team that has been working together for a while, and that allows them to have a good start together,” said Uruguay coach Marcelo Bielsa.

ENTERTAINING MATCHUP

Bielsa said the choppy nature of the match against Brazil made it difficult for both teams to show their skills, but he expects a much more entertaining matchup against offensive-minded Colombia.

Colombia have outscored their opponents 11-2 so far in the tournament.

“We have great players and they have great players,” Bielsa said. “Both teams are going to adjust.”

While it may not have been pretty, the win moved Uruguay a step closer to reaching the final for the first time since winning it all 13 years ago.

Uruguay’s resilience – and pesky defence – was on full display after holding Brazil scoreless over the final 15 minutes despite playing a man down.

“Of course it gives us confidence because we eliminated Brazil,” said Uruguay midfielder Maximiliano Araujo. “It reassures us.”

The win impressed Colombia coach Néstor Lorenzo.

“Uruguay have a strong competitive spirit and that is the main challenge for us,” said Lorenzo.

Still, Colombia’s momentum has been building throughout the tournament.

Cordoba, Díaz and Daniel Munoz have each scored two goals and Rodriguez has a tournament-high five assists. Their passing has been on target, their shot selection superb and game management strong.

But they’ll face a Uruguay team that is largely built on defence. Uruguay have only allowed one goal in their previous four Copa America matches.

DEMANDING GAME

“(Colombia) have very important weapons,” Maximiliano Araujo said. “It’s going to be a very demanding game for us.”

Bielsa believes slowing down Díaz is key.

“If we defend with 40 metres behind us, Díaz is going to lick his lips. But if we defend the entire game in front of our area, he likes it too,” Bielsa said.

“In games you imagine him attacking and preventing the opponent from attacking.”

Colombia are looking to advance to the championship game for the first time since 2001 when they beat Brazil 1-0.

Lorenzo knows his team is playing well.

“The (unbeaten) streak is not something that I mention ever,” Lorenzo said. “Tomorrow is our most important match.”

He also knows how important the game is to the country, which has rallied behind the national team.

“We have gotten to the semifinals because we have been focused,” Lorenzo said.

“We are confident in the plan we have put together for every team. Having made it this far, every detail matters.”

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