Despite a late rally from Paraguay, Colombia picked up a 2-1 win in Pasadena, California last night to make it six points from six in their group games and ensure their passage to Copa América Centenario quarter finals
Expectations were high for José Pékerman’s team after a superb performance in their previous game and la selección created the early running, with James Rodríguez firing a shot just over the bar. Colombia’s number 10 played the full 90 minutes despite doubts that he would miss out after suffering a shoulder injury against the USA on Friday.
His presence was vital as the Real Madrid man put in one of his finest performances in a Colombia shirt.
After 11 minutes the pressure told, when Carlos Bacca headed in a James corner to make it 1-0. Just two minutes later the Paraguayan goalkeeper had to make a brilliant reflex save to deny James his second goal of the tournament. But Colombia were dominant.
In the 29th minute James got the goal he deserved, rounding off a lightning quick counter attack by Carlos Bacca and Edwin Cardona. With a precise finish into the bottom corner James made it 2-0 to Los Cafeteros, who were looking extremely comfortable.
Colombia were largely cruising until a brief moment of panic as Paraguay headed into the net, but the goal was rightly ruled out for offside by Brazilian referee Heber Lopez. Still, the pressure from the Paraguayans rose and David Ospina was forced to make a point blank save to preserve the two goal advantage. On the stroke of half time Paraguay smashed the crossbar from a free kick but Colombia went into the break with their two goal lead intact.
The second half started scrappily, with neither team taking control. But Paraguay gradually found more space in midfield, and always looked dangerous from set-pieces. On 61 minutes Ospina pulled off another world class save to stop an Óscar Romero header and keep Colombia two goals ahead. At the other end, it was Colombia’s turn to have a goal disallowed as Carlos Bacca found the net from a clearly offside position.
It was still somewhat against the run of play, though, when Paraguay pulled a goal back. The ball ran to Victor Ayala, who had come on at halftime, about 30 metres from goal and he blasted it over Ospina and into the back of the net to take the score to 2-1. For a brief moment the nerves rose, but Paraguay’s chances of making a dramatic comeback were diminished when Óscar Romero received a second yellow card and was sent off on 81 minutes.
The game was end to end until the final whistle, and Colombia hit the post just second after Paraguay had a shot cleared off the line. But the cafeteros’ victory was well-deserved, and earnt them progress to the quarterfinals of the tournament with a game to spare. On Saturday June 11, Colombia will meets Costa Rica – who suffered a 4-0 defeat to the USA earlier on Tuesday – needing just a draw to ensure they top the group.
By Daniel Tinsley