CHICAGO (AP) — It got out of hand in the second half. Chile was so good Mexico just fell apart.
Chile’s dominant performance in the Copa America quarterfinals captured Colombia’s attention. It was one dazzling statement.
“That game they exploded,” Colombia coach Jose Nestor Pekerman said. “All the skills came through. This was a team with every skill necessary to win with great superiority and great distance.”
Great distance, indeed. And now La Roja is Pekerman’s problem.
Chile and Colombia meet in the semifinals of South America’s championship on Wednesday night at Soldier Field in Chicago. The winner faces Argentina in the championship on Sunday night in New Jersey; the loser takes on the United States in the third-place game Saturday night in Arizona.
Another victory for fifth-ranked Chile, the runner-up in Group D to No. 1 Argentina, and it gets a chance to defend its title from a year ago.
“The Chilean team as we all know is a very complete team,” Colombia defender Cristian Zapata said. “Very skilled, world class team. Certainly we as defense, we must do really hard work, but we are at the right level. Our team is at the right level to have a great competition and I dream of reaching the finals.”
No. 3 Colombia, which won its only Copa title at home in 2001, presents its own challenges for Chile, made even more daunting by the absence of Arturo Vidal. The skilled midfielder is suspended after drawing his second yellow card against Mexico, and defensive midfielder Marcelo Diaz also could miss the game due to injury.
“The foundations of our game is based on teamwork,” Chile defender Gonzalo Jara said. “Whoever replaces Arturo will do the best job.”
Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Diaz’s health “suffered an overload” against Mexico, and he would know more about his availability after Tuesday night’s practice at the home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
“As for other people missing it is very truthful the main virtue of this team rests in the teamwork of these players and the effort that all make,” he said.
That teamwork was on display Saturday night in Northern California, when Eduardo Vargas scored a career-high four goals to help Chile rout Mexico 7-0 for El Tri’s worst loss in a competitive match — prompting an apology from its stunned coach. Edson Puch had two goals, and Alexis Sanchez added a goal and two assists.
“We have to be careful with all Chilean players,” Pekerman said through a translator. “It’s a team with a lot of work, that can adapt to different situations, quick. Everybody talks about Vargas and Sanchez, but Edson Puch is doing a great job and they have a great midfield and attack a lot on the flanks.”
Pizzi seemed more than ready to move on from the runaway win.
“We are happy about the way we’ve come this far,” he said. “We can’t allow our minds to get stuck on three, four days ago. That is now history.”
While Chile roared into the semifinals, Colombia advanced with a 4-2 penalty-kicks victory against Peru after a 0-0 tie Friday night. It’s Colombia’s first appearance in the Copa semifinals since 2004.
Colombia finished second to the U.S. in Group A after beating the Americans 2-0 in their opening match. Pekerman said the team had chances to score against Peru, but was unable to finish, and he thinks that experience will help at some point.
“We are confirming a lot of positive things here and learning many situations that will be proved favorable in the future,” he said.
“All of this has been positive, and at the competitive level, we never stopped believing in victory because we compete to win.”