VINA DEL MAR: Carlos Tevez fired Argentina into the semi-finals of the Copa America on Friday, scoring the decisive spot-kick as the tournament favourites defeated Colombia 5-4 in a dramatic penalty shootout that went to sudden death.
Tevez, who missed the crucial penalty when Argentina went out in a shoot-out at the 2011 tournament, was not part of the first five penalty takers but later rammed homed the winning spot-kick after Colombia’s Jeison Murillo had blazed over the bar.
The 31-year-old, who came on as a second-half substitute, provided the dramatic final twist to a shoot-out which saw Lucas Biglia and Marcos Rojo both miss from the spot for Argentina when their penalties would have sealed victory after regulation time finished at 0-0.
Tevez admitted his contribution to victory — four years after his nightmare miss sealed Argentina’s elimination from the 2011 tournament on home soil — was sweet.
“In football there’s always a second chance,” said Tevez, who also sealed his move back to boyhood club Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires. “But tonight is not about me, it’s about my teammates. My teammates 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 role on the bench. “I enjoy playing, the team is playing well and I just have to wait for my chance,” said Tevez.
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,” revealed Martino.
Defeat was cruel on Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina, who had single-handedly kept his side in the contest with a series of superb saves 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 fouls that went unpunished by Mexican referee Roberto Garcia, who did however dish out a whopping six cautions in the ill-tempered first 45.
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.
However, 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 Ospina saved with his legs. Messi then seemed certain to score from the rebound as the ball looped into his path six yards out with the goal gaping but Ospina somehow recovered in time to parry the Argentina captain’s header over the bar.
Ospina saved Colombia again with another remarkable diving save to tip Nicolas Otamendi’s shot onto the post in the 80th minute.
But Ospina was unable to reproduce his heroics in the shoot-out as Messi, Ezequiel Garay, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi all drilled in their first four penalties.
Luis Muriel’s miss for Colombia gave Biglia the chance to clinch it but the Lazio defender shot wide.
The next three penalties were all missed, leaving Tevez to rifle in the winner.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2015.
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