CONCACAF: Colombia routs Panama to reach Copa America semis

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Colombia is right where it expected to be — in the semifinals of Copa America.

Entering the tournament full of confidence thanks to a 23-match unbeaten streak, the Colombians have started to look like serious championship contenders.

Heavily favored Colombia got a goal and an assist from James Rodriguez in the opening 15 minutes of action and went on to defeat upstart Panama 5-0 in Glendale, Ariz., on Saturday in a Copa America quarterfinal match.

“The match wasn’t as easy as you might draw from the result,” Colombia coach Nestor Lorenzo said. “It was very physical. Panama is a team that has a game plan that they manage well. They were lacking a bit in their finishing, and we were clinical. We won by a great difference, but it was a tough match.”

Rodriguez also added an assist on a soul-crushing goal just before halftime as Colombia ended up extending its unbeaten run to 27 matches while advancing to Wednesday’s semifinals in Charlotte, where the Colombians will face Uruguay. The Uruguayans beat Brazil 4-2 in penalties in another quarterfinal later Saturday night.

Colombia faced Brazil in its final Group D match and played Uruguay in World Cup qualifiers, and Lorenzo was prepared to face either team.

“We cannot pick an opponent,” Lorenzo said. “That wouldn’t be right. I think there are two great teams, two champions, and any of those teams is a candidate to be a title holder.”

Hopes of a Panamanian upset were dealt a blow when just eight minutes after kickoff, Jhon Cordoba scored off a corner kick by Rodriguez, who doubled the lead in the 15th minute on a penalty kick.

While Panama settled down to record several strong scoring chances, Rodriguez caught the Panamanians napping on a restart and sent a ball over the top from the center circle to Luis Diaz, who found the back of the net in the 41st minute for a 3-0 lead.

Rodriguez has five assists in four tournament matches.

Panama is ranked 43rd in the world and reached the Copa knockout stage for the first time in program history to emerge as one of this year’s surprise teams.

“We cannot forget that we achieved great results before today, and we are still proud,” Panama coach Thomas Christiansen said. “But we played against an opponent that has been unbeaten in 27 matches, it’s a national team at its prime, maybe its best.”

The Panamanians entered the match coming off consecutive victories over the United States and Bolivia to finish second in Group C behind Uruguay, but Colombia quickly took control on Saturday.

With the match already a blowout by intermission, Lorenzo was able to rest several of his top players, including Diaz, who exited in the 65th minute. Rodriguez came out eight minutes later.

“We are trying to manage in the best way possible,” Lorenzo said. “We try to rotate on the pitch the players that had the most minutes.

“We’ll go match by match because we cannot talk about the final. We haven’t played the semifinals yet, so the next match is the most important one.”

Richard Rios scored in the 70th minute on a strike from outside the box, and Miguel Borja scored on another penalty in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time.

Colombia’s 11 goals match its most ever at Copa. It also scored 11 as the runner-up in 1975 and did so again in 2001 when it won the title.

“Of course, no one likes losing, much less (5-0), but we have to commend the players for this Copa America that did not end as we wished,” Christiansen said. “But we can draw the conclusion that (this was) also a learning experience.”

–Field Level Media

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