Colombia, Argentina to clash in Copa semis

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Columbia takes on Argentina in the Copa America semi finals on Tuesday.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:07 IST
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Painful experience in modern times cause Argentina to pay Colombia the highest respect in their Copa America semifinal today, in a rivalry which has fast become a South American "clasico." After Argentina won their first Copa matchup 9-1 in 1945, Colombia took 42 years to finally break through. It came in grand style, a 2-1 upset of the World Cup champions in Buenos Aires. Colombia would humble Argentina again at home by 5-0 in 1993 World Cup qualifying. Coach Francisco Maturana guided Colombia to the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and a sweep of the 2001 Copa, but he ran out of inspiration, and in his last game in charge, they drew Argentina 1-1 at home last November to win their first point in 2006 qualifying. Reinaldo Rueda, whose under-20s beat Argentina to place third in the World Youth Cup, took over in January and has raised Colombian ambitions. The side, with only Elkin Murillo from the 2001 champions, has extended its unbeaten Copa streak to 10 matches and come to believe it can keep the title. "This group is capable of doing it. We're motivated and prepared for any opponent," said striker Tressor Moreno. "If we want to be champions, if we want to carry the cup, we're going to have to leave it all out on the field." En route to the semifinals, Colombia has beaten Venezuela 1-0, edged Bolivia 1-0, drawn Peru 2-2, and downed Costa Rica 2-0 in the quarterfinals on Saturday. "Now we have to play with more intelligence," said Colombia coach Reinaldo Rueda. Argentina's all-out attack has hit and missed in a 6-1 blowout of Ecuador and 1-0 loss to Mexico, then a 1-0 struggle past host Peru in the quarterfinals. Through it all, embattled coach Marcelo Bielsa has hardly changed his starting lineup to build continuity, he argued. He dismissed suggestion his starters could be tired. "I don't think we'll pay a price for having a stable lineup," Bielsa said. But not available will be veteran Valencia defender Roberto Ayala, who was sent off for yellow card accumulation against Peru, and probably FC Barcelona striker Javier Saviola, who has missed the last two games because of a muscle injury. Andres D'Alessandro, the crafty playmaker from Germany's Wolfsburg, also could be sidelined with a thigh pull suffered against Mexico. Cruz Azul forward Luciano Figueroa is again expected to replace Saviola, while Boca Juniors' Carlos Tevez would be a likely candidate to substitute D'Alessandro. Midfielder Javier Mascherano will be back after serving a one-game suspension for excessive yellow cards, to try and help Argentina win its first major title since 1993. It skipped the 2001 Copa over security concerns. Colombia will be at full strength with the return of key defenders Arley Dinas and Gonzalo Martinez from suspension. Just before the Copa, Colombia defeated Argentina 2-0 in a friendly in Miami, but Rueda said the result would have little impact on today's match. "That game is history," said Rueda. "But I hope we play well and that the result ends in our favour." (AP)

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