ARGENTINA reached the semi-finals of the Copa America here Friday, defeating Colombia 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out after a fiercely contested match finished 0-0 at full-time.
Former Juventus striker Carlos Tevez was the hero for Argentina, stepping up to ram home the decisive sudden death spot kick after Colombia’s Jeison Murillo had blazed over the bar to give the favourites the initiative.
Tevez’s penalty was the final twist to a dramatic shoot-out which saw Lucas Biglia and Marcos Rojo both miss kicks for Argentina that would have sealed victory.
Argentina’s win puts them into a semi-final against the winner of Saturday’s quarter-final between Brazil and Paraguay.
“In soccer there’s always a second chance,” said Tevez, who earlier Friday sealed his move back boyhood club Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires.
“But tonight is not about me, it’s about my team-mates. My team-mates won this match and I’m very proud of them, and I’m proud to be part of this squad.” Tevez, who spent three long years frozen out of Argentina’s national team before returning after the 2014 World Cup, said he was happy with his non-starting role in the Albiceleste.
“I enjoy playing, the team is playing well and I just have to wait for my chance,” Tevez said.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino admitted that he had deliberately omitted Tevez from his list of five designated penalty takers for the shoot-out in order to ease pressure on the former Manchester City striker.
“I didn’t put Tevez among the top five because the last time he shot, Argentina went out. We wanted to avoid that,” Martino revealed.
Defeat was cruel on Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina, who had single-handedly kept his side in the contest with a series of superb saves during 90 minutes to frustrate the tournament favourites.
Argentina had earlier dominated a one-sided first half which at times threatened to spiral out of control with both sides committing a series of niggly fouls that went unpunished by Mexican referee Roberto Garcia.
Argentina midfielder Javier Pastore was the first to threaten, touching on a low cross from Angel Di Maria that was cleared at the near post by the Colombian cover after only seven minutes.
Three minutes later captain Lionel Messi swept forward from halfway and released Di Maria in space only for the Manchester United striker to shoot tamely at Ospina.
Colombia star James Rodriguez became the first of six players to receive a caution in the opening 45 minutes when he was booked for dissent.
By half time three more Colombians — Santiago Arias, Alexander Mejia and Juan Cuadrado — had earned yellow cards.
For Argentina, both Javier Mascherano and Sergio Aguero were booked. The highlight of the half was an incredible double save by Ospina in the 26th minute.
Ospina, whose future at Arsenal is now uncertain following the club’s signing of Petr Cech this week, reminded Gunners manager Arsene Wenger of his ability to thwart Aguero and Messi in quick succession.
A low cross from the right from Pastore picked out Aguero whose shot was saved by Ospina’s legs.
Messi seemed certain to score from the rebound as the ball looped into his path but Ospina somehow recovered in time to parry the Argentina captain’s header over the bar.
Ospina was pressed into action once again shortly before half-time, blocking what would have been a spectacular own goal from Cristian Zapata after the defender inadvertently volleyed Di Maria’s cross.
– Tempers flared – Five minutes later tempers flared when Cuadrado was lucky to stay on the pitch after a rash challenge on Rojo which somehow failed to earn him a second yellow card.
Argentina’s bench were furious at the decision, with assistant manager Jorge Pautasso sent to the stands after angrily remonstrating with the fourth official.
Ospina saved Colombia again with another remarkable diving save to tip Nicolas Otamendi’s shot onto the post in the 80th minute.