According to coach Reinaldo Rueda, Colombia will have to raise their game if they are to defeat Argentina in Tuesday’s Copa America semi-final and have any hope of retaining the title they won three years ago.
Having reached the semis with a less than convincing 2-0 win over Costa Rica, Rueda is asking his players for a marked improvement.
“Now we have to play with more intelligence,” he said.
Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa faces a different challenge, with several of his players struggling with injuries. Striker Javier Saviola may be in form but he did not even make the bench for the team’s quarter-final win against hosts Peru, due to a hamstring injury. Andres D’Alessandro is also doubtful for the game with a leg injury.
The absence of either man could be a blessing for Carlos Tevez, who scored the only goal against Peru. The 20 year-old is popular with the Argentine public, with many calling for him to be given an extended run in the team.
“Tevez is an option for the starting line-up. He has played well and he deserves it. It is an option that is linked to how Andres D’Alessandro fares,” said coach Bielsa.
Argentina will certainly be without captain Roberto Ayala, who was sent off in their quarter-final. Javier Zanetti will take over the armband for the semi and was pragmatic about his colleague’s absence.
“We’ve lost Ayala, who is a fundamental part of the team, but that’s football,” he said.
In contrast Colombia welcome back two of their defenders for the game. Arley Dinas and Gonzalo Martinez, who sat out the Costa Rica game, will both return.
The two teams met just nine days before the tournament, in a friendly in Miami, but both coaches have been quick to dismiss its relevance.
Reinaldo Rueda said: “That game is history, this is going to be another game in a different tournament. But I hope we play well and that the result ends in our favour.”
Argentina opened the tournament in some style, winning 6-1 against Ecuador. They may have been held up for an hour, but Saviola’s hat-trick in 15 second half minutes destroyed any Ecuadorian resistance and the rout was completed.
The second group game was a shock for the Argentines, their first defeat by Mexico in 14 years settled by an outstanding free-kick by Ramon Morales. Despite a number of good chances in the second half, Marcelo Bielsa’s men headed into the last game of the first stage in third place.
The match against Uruguay was a full-blooded encounter, punctuated by the dismissal of Uruguay’s Joe Bizera after half an hour. Even though a man up Argentina conceded an equaliser, before eventually winning the game 4-2 thanks to Luciano Figueroa’s first two international goals. The win secured a quarter-final game against hosts Peru.
The Colombians made heavy weather of arguably the easiest group in the tournament. They shaded their first game, an entertaining 1-0 win against Venezuela. Tressor Moreno’s twice-taken penalty was the winner, but the Venezuelans had enough chances to win the match, and dominated the second half.
Colombia’s next game against Bolivia was another solitary goal victory, Edixon Perea leaving it until the last minute to seal the win. Having dominated the match the Colombians found it difficult to penetrate a stubborn Bolivian rearguard, but ended the match with qualification for the quarter-finals.
Oddly enough, Colombia’s best performance in the group stages came in the one game they didn’t win – a 2-2 draw against hosts Peru. Despite the home crowd’s fervour the Colombians went two up through Congo and Aguilar, and but for a mad five minutes around the hour when they conceded twice, would have won the game comfortably.
Argentina’s quarter-final against Peru was a tricky one in front of a packed crowd in Chiclayo, desperate for a home win. Marcelo Bielsa’s men prevailed in a bad-tempered game 1-0 with a brilliant free-kick goal by substitute Tevez, but had captain Ayala sent off for two bookable offences.
Bielsa was modest about his decision to introduce Tevez.
“I had my doubts about making the change as we were probably playing the best football of the game, but I went ahead and did it anyway,” he said.
“Luckily it went well for us.”
Colombia had a comfortable if unimpressive 2-0 win against rank outsiders Costa Rica, scoring twice just before half-time through Moreno and Aguilar and coasting through a largely unremarkable second period.
“It might not have been our most spectacular performance, but we came through by using our brains and our game plan,” said coach Rueda.