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It was a night of thrilling football and pulsating turn of events as the quarter-final stage of the Copa America commenced on Saturday night and few would have expected that the teams which were odds-on-favourite to win the two games would both be dumped out of the competition. The exit of Argentina fuels many questions about the cohesiveness and team-ethic of their star-studded squad but credit must be given to Uruguay who dug deep to claim a historic 5-4 penalty shootout win against their old enemies after the game itself had ended at one goal apiece, 120 minutes of cat-and-mouse football unable to separate the teams.
The first shocking result of the evening came in Cordoba as Peru dumped Colombia out, who were thus far the â€˜in form' team of the competition - unbeaten and largely imperious in all their games in the group stage of the competition. It was to be extra time joy for the fitter Peruvians whose agility and killer instinct saw them poach two goals in the space of ten minutes either side of the break in extra time to pip Colombia for a semi-final berth and send people into rapturous jubilation in the streets of Lima.
The game itself was a tense and tight affair with the two sides largely cancelling each other out in the first period. The game did open up slightly in the second half with the pick of the early chances coming from the boot of Colombia's Pablo Almero, who saw his shot blocked before Peru's Juan Manuel Vargas aka â€œthe madmanâ€ fired wide in the best of the early chances.
Back up the other end, Moreno found himself in the thick of chances, seeing shots blocked, saved and go wide. William Chiroque forced a save out of Martinez in the same spell of end-to-end play.
On the hour mark Moreno won a penalty which saw Alberto Rodriguez booked for pulling him back but Falcao put the spot kick agonisingly wide of Raul Fernandez's right hand post in what was to prove to be the turning point in the match. The onslaught of chances continued till the end of stoppage time but Peru ran the gauntlet in extra time and caused lapses in concentration down the heart of Colombia's defence, who looked ragged, jaded and distinctly out of ideas. On 101 minutes, Martinez committed a costly error, colliding with his teammate Mario Yepes whilst trying to claim a high free-kick. Lobaton gleefully smashed home the loose ball to give Peru the lead. Peru doggedly kept snapping at Colombia's heels and ensured qualification in the 111th minute when Vargas scored after being put through by Jose Guerrero.
In the late game of the night and probably the pick of the quarter-final fixtures Argentina locked horns with Uruguay in Santa Fe and the game lived up to its billing as plenty of attacking football was on display along with the usual twists and turns which make for compelling viewing.
Uruguay got off to a dream start as Diego Forlan's long range free kick was nodded on by Alvaro Perreira for Diego Perez to arrive unmarked at the far post and slide home the opening goal inside five minutes. Argentina however came resoundingly back into the match, and after a failed Uruguayan counter attack, Lionel Messi cut inside from the right and sent in a perfect delivery for Higuain to head home.
The hosts were then provided a major lift when Diego Perez received his marching orders in the 39th minute for a second bookable offense. With the impetus of a man-advantage, Sergio Batista's men came charging out of the blocks in the second half but for all their guile, possession and attacking endeavour the likes of Messi, Di Maria, Aguero and Higuain weren't able to break down a resilient Uruguay. With the scores still level, parity was restored even on account of men on the pitch as Mascherano received a second yellow for a clumsy challenge on Suarez, making things more exciting in extra time.
Batista introduced Javier Pastore and Carlos Tevez instead of Di Maria and Aguero who created a few problems for man of the match Fernando Muslera in the Uruguayan goal. Higuain passed up a glorious chance to win it for Argentina smashing against the post with only Muslera to beat, but the CharrÃºas stuck to their task as the game headed for penalties with the two teams tied at 1-1 after 120 minutes of football. Argentina had 18 shots, 10 on goal in response to Uruguay's measly two from eight and dominated possession, facts obvious since they had a man advantage for nearly fifty minutes in the game.
The penalty shootout, oft considered a cruel way of deciding victor over vanquished, was overall a high quality affair- Lionel Messi making no mistake with Argentina's first, sending Muslera the wrong way with consummate ease. Forlan responded for the Uruguayans netting high into the middle of the goal with Romero diving to his right. Burdisso and Suarez then made no mistake as both teams remained deadlocked at 2-2 (in the shootout). Tevez was then denied by Muslera who guessed right, leaving the beleaguered forward much to chew on as the transfer drama surrounding him wages on. Pastore and Higuain kept Argentina in the running but it was to be Uruguay's night as Andres Scotti, Walter Gargano and Caceres all kept their cool to send Oscar Taberez's men into dreamland as a berth in the final at Antonio Vespucio Liberti on July 24 beckons.
But first, the Charruas must get past the dogged Peruvians in what is certain to be a tantalizing Semi-final clash on Tuesday at the Ciudad de La Plata.
The focus now shifts to the other two quarter-final clashes on Sunday night which sees Brazil again pit their wits against Paraguay (the group fixture ended 2-2) and the much-fancied Chileans take on Venezuela.
- 21/07/2011 09:24 - Villar heroics and woodwork take lucky Paraguay to Copa America Final
- 20/07/2011 10:12 - Uruguay through to Copa America Final with 2-0 win against Peru
- 18/07/2011 09:35 - Giant Killing in Copa America continues. Out go Brazil, Chile