Sergio Romero
Tevez converts decisive penalty to lift Argentina past Colombia
Sergio Romero

Tevez converts decisive penalty to lift Argentina past Colombia

Published Jun. 26, 2015 9:45 p.m. ET

VINA DEL MAR, Chile --

Redemption comes in the strangest forms. Four years ago, Carlos Tevez missed the decisive kick in the penalty shootout as Argentina crashed out of the Copa America to Uruguay. That miss, combined with his petulant display, meant it took him almost four years to regain his place in the Argentina team. Many questioned Gerardo Martino’s decision to recall him in March, but he and all of Argentina must be delighted that he did. Lucas Biglia and Marcos Rojo had both missed penalties with a chance to win the shootout, but when Tevez -- freshly unveiled by his boyhood club, Boca Juniors -- stepped up to take the fourteenth kick, he converted to send Argentina through to the semifinal.

Argentina must have gone into the shootout mystified that it had not already won and won comfortably. It had dominated the game for long spells, but it somehow failed to take advantage and settled for a 0-0 draw after extra time. While David Ospina, the Colombia goalkeeper, deserved much of the credit after making two stunning saves, and there was misfortune, there had also to be questions about its incisiveness. This, after all, was the fourth game in a row in which Argentina struggled to turn domination into goals. Somehow that illustrious forward line of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria did not quite click.


Colombia, at least, had taken action against its sluggishness. Jose Pekerman had defended Falcao throughout the tournament, but finally, he had to accept the inevitable: in this form, the acceleration of old vanished, his place as a starter simply could not be justified any longer. It’s not just that Falcao is out of sorts -- players can snap out of that, as the example of Paolo Rossi at the 1982 World Cup will always attest -- but he was actively detrimental to the team from a tactical point of view.

With Falcao as a fixed point, Teo Gutierrez had to be used as a second striker -- a 1-0 defeat to Venezuela in World Cup qualifying had persuaded Pekerman he couldn’t use Falcao as a lone front man -- and that decision in turn confined Rodriguez to a position drifting in from the left. Here, Gutierrez was given his freedom in the middle of a 4-4-2, with Alexander Mejia taking the holding midfield role from the suspended Carlos Sanchez and Jackson Martinez inserted in Falcao's place.

It was, frankly, a disaster, though the issues perhaps had more to do with the absences at the back of midfield than with the front line (as well as Sanchez’s suspension, Colombia lost Abel Aguilar to injury before the tournament and Edwin Valencia to a knee problem against Peru). Colombia was utterly overrun in the early stages. Pekerman took prompt action: Gutierrez exited after 23 minutes to allow the introduction of midfielder Edwin Cardona. The change barely staunched the tide. Argentina ran rampant in the first half. It was a minor miracle Colombia got to half time with the score at 0-0 and with 11 men on the pitch.

The game became remarkably stretched early. Messi, Javier Pastore and Di Maria kept getting runs at the Colombian defense, in part because the defensive midfield was almost non-existent. Santiago Arias, the Colombia left-back, was the main defense against Messi, but every time Messi drifted infield he moved into Mejia’s territory. Both men struggled to cope with the movement and both were cautioned within the first 36 minutes.

Only some poor finishing -- notably from Lucas Biglia, who dragged wide a fine chance from the edge of the box -- and the heroics of Ospina stood between Argentina and a comfortable lead. He made a number of fine saves, but his best came after 21 minutes as he blocked a Aguero effort from Pastore’s cross with his feet and then, as Messi seemed sure to score, spring up to push away his follow-up header.

Pekerman did, to an extent, manage to staunch the flow of chances in the second half, with Cardona and the two wide men both dropping deeper (and the two full-backs, Juan Camilo Zuniga and Arias, switching sides to take the player on a caution away from the danger zone), but it was still a story of Argentinian domination.

The longer Colombia clung on the more frustrated Argentina became. It may have been the soft option for the referee Roberto Garcia -- who had what might kindly be termed an erratic game -- to send off Argentina’s assistant coach Jorge Pautasso after he protested at a foul by Juan Cuadrado, who had already been booked, on Marcos Rojo, but his irritation reflected the Argentinian mood. Argentina had tired towards the end of each of its group games and there were signs it was doing so again.

The introduction of Ever Banega gave Argentina new impetus. He skimmed the top of the bar with a 25-yard drive and then, with eight minutes to go. Ospina soon made another extraordinary save by pushing a header from Nicolas Otamendi against the post from where it rebounded back along the line but stayed out. Sicx minutes later, after Tevez, introduced as a 70th-minute replacement for Aguero, had forced the ball past Ospina, Murillo recovered to hook the ball off the line. Argentina was thwarted again by a combination of its own finishing, some remarkable Colombian resistance and misfortune.

Argentina faltered in the penalties as well, though it survived nevertheless. Luis Muriel was the first to miss, blazing way over, but then Biglia missed the target. Rojo spared Zuniga, whose shot had been saved by Sergio Romero. Tevez, though, was ruthless after Murillo, looking questioningly at the spot, had fired high over the bar. As Osina dived to his right, Tevez lifted the ball into the center of the goal to send Argentina through to a semi-final against Brazil or Paraguay. Martino’s side may not yet have found fluency in this tournament, but it has shown its character.


Sergio Romero
Get more from Sergio Romero Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more