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CHARLOTTE: Colombia beat Uruguay 1-0 in a 10-team match to reach the Copa America final for the first time in 23 years after a heated semi-final on Wednesday.

A header from Jefferson Lerma in the 39th minute sealed the victory for the Colombians, who will now face defending champions Argentina in the final on Sunday in Miami.

It was an anarchic semi-final in front of a packed and passionate crowd that ended with scuffles on the pitch and fights in the stands, with several players crawling among the fans amid the flying punches.

Despite Daniel Munoz’s sending off shortly before half-time and the intense pressure from Uruguay, Colombia achieved a memorable victory to the delight of its numerous fans.

The streets of the North Carolina city’s downtown were filled with celebrating fans in bright yellow Colombia jerseys hours before kickoff.

At the Bank of America Stadium, with a capacity of 74,800 spectators, it was like a home game in Bogotá, with only a few Uruguayan fans breaking through the yellow wall on all four sides of the stadium.

Unsurprisingly, Colombia started strongly in such an atmosphere. Lively Liverpool winger Luis Diaz managed to create space on the left to cross. He found Daniel Munoz at the far post, but the full-back’s header went wide.

Uruguay were dangerous on the counterattack as usual and their Liverpool star Darwin Nunez almost scored one goal when Rodrigo Bentancur found him with a clever pass, but the striker missed his shot.

Nunez had another chance when Maximiliano Araujo played him free in the right half-space, but the striker shot too hastily and the ball went high and wide.

At the other end, Colombia forced a loss of possession, which led to James Rodriguez crossing from the right, but Jhon Cordoba’s header went wide.

The breakthrough came in the 39th minute when Lerma majestically rose above Jose Maria Gimenez and powerfully headed in a corner kick from Rodriguez.

It was Rodriguez’s sixth assist of the tournament, with the former Real Madrid midfielder surpassing the record for most assists in a single Copa Cup, set by Lionel Messi in 2021.

Colombia tried to make the most of their momentum and Richard Rios forced Uruguayan goalkeeper Sergio Rochet to make a save after a pass from Munoz.

But after having had so much influence on the right in the first half, Munoz completely lost his composure just before half-time and received a second yellow card after elbowing Manuel Ugarte.

It was a moment of madness that resulted in Colombia having to defend their lead with only ten men for the entire second half.

Colombia coach Nestor Lorenzo took off Rodriguez, who also had a yellow card, in the 62nd minute as Uruguay gradually began to convert its numerical superiority into real pressure.

Nicolas de la Cruz threatened with a low shot before substitute Luis Suarez, after good work from Federico Valverde, hit the outside of the post with a shot from the edge of the penalty area.

Real Madrid midfielder Valverde then came close to scoring with a low shot as the Colombian defense continued to have luck.

The ball went to the Uruguayan goalkeeper and landed at Mateus Uribe, whose shot went wide of the post despite time and space.

In stoppage time, Uruguay had a great chance to force a penalty shootout when Nunez passed the ball to substitute Giorgian de Arrascaeta on the edge of the box, but he leaned back and fired his shot over the bar.

Uribe still had time to waste another chance to secure the win, this time hitting the crossbar in the last minute, but the adoring Colombian fans will forgive his wastefulness.

The celebrations were marred by ugly scenes in the stands, causing concern for organisers CONMEBOL ahead of a final that is sure to attract large numbers of Argentines and Colombians.

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