After a gap of eleven years, Argentina once again find themselves in the final of the Copa América. Lima was the setting for a comfortable 3-0 semi-final win over Colombia, who were unable to provide their country with a double celebration on Independence Day. Now, only the winner of tonight's game between Brazil and Uruguay stand between the Albiceleste and a record 15th title.
The large crowd in the Peruvian capital's National Stadium - Peruvian and Colombian supporters in the main - saw Marcelo Bielsa's men exact sweet revenge for their recent friendly defeat at the hands of the Cafeteros. "It seems they learned from that defeat in Miami, and made the necessary adjustments to their game. Argentina knew exactly what they had to do out there tonight," lamented the Colombian coach Reinaldo Rueda afterwards.
With Javier Mascherano at the helm, Argentina put the Colombians under intense pressure right from the word go. Once they had their opponents on the back foot, the Albiceleste were soon using their superior possession to create chances for Carlos Tévez, who emerged along with César Delgado and Javier Zanetti as the pivotal figures in a game that saw them dominate the right flank.
As for Colombia, the first half was a case of battening down the hatches and hoping to ride out the storm. Their only attacking option seemed to be the speculative efforts of Tressor Moreno and Edwin Congo to hit Argentina on the break. They did, however, carve out a half-chance early on when Zanetti's poor back pass briefly put his keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri under pressure.
|Colombian Gonzalo Martinez (L) and Argentine Juan Pablo Sorin vie for the ball during the Copa America 2004 semifinals soccer match at the Nacional Stadium in Lima, 20 July, 2004. Argentina won 3-0 and will play the final.|
The Albiceleste had to wait until the second half before they could convert their superior possession into further goals. After some good interplay between Luciano Figueroa and Juan Pablo Sorín, Figueroa pulled back a cross for the unmarked Luis González to score with a first-time strike (2-0, 49'). "Argentina played with passion, precision and discipline out there. We were powerless to contain them," said added a downbeat Rueda.
With a comfortable lead, Argentina maintained possession and were happy to play down the clock with good attacking football that drew appreciative applause from the Peruvian fans. Remarking on this later, Bielsa said: "We deserved it. The team controlled the game from start to finish. They were always willing to take the game to the opposition and show some individual flair."
The third and final goal - a header from Sorín (80') - rounded off an excellent performance and pushed the Argentina's goal tally to an impressive 14 in only five games. "We were clearly the better side on the night. We never looked in trouble and I think the score was a fair reflection of our dominance," pronounced Bielsa at an unusually relaxed post-match press conference.
Now, buoyed up by back-to-back victories and the return of their influential defender Roberto Ayala, Argentina are in confident mood ahead of next Sunday's grand final. Only one match stands between them and a coveted title that has eluded them since 1993.