Relief for Argentina after surviving physical duel with Colombia
VINA DEL MAR, Chile -- Three observations from Argentina's 5-4 penalty shootout victory over Colombia in the Copa America quarterfinals.
1. Redemption for Carlos Tevez, relief for Argentina
They are still in the Copa America, and Lionel Messi still has a chance to break Argentina's 22-year trophy drought, but it is still unbelievable how this enthralling quarterfinal was required to go as far as 16 penalties in a shootout and that Colombia kept 11 men on the pitch.
Jose Pekerman's men were utterly battered throughout the game, as they tried to physically stop Gerardo Martino's side. Argentina initially stood up to that and should have been out of sight by halftime, having missed a series of chances.
One of the guiltiest culprits was Messi, but the key was neither he nor his team allowed those missed chances or the manner of the game to affect their nerve. Tevez, meanwhile, didn't allow what happened in the latest Copa America or four years of international exile to adversely affect him.
The 90 minutes had been pulsating and engaging, but they were immediately matched by the drama of the shootout. After six penalties of the highest quality -- with the pick coming from Ezequiel Garay, Messi and Radamel Falcao -- the tone suddenly changed. Luis Muriel atrociously skied his, trigging a series of awful efforts.
After Jeison Murillo matched Muriel for haplessness -- sandwiching misses from Juan Camilo Zuniga and Marcos Rojo -- it was left to Tevez. He had missed the key penalty in the quarterfinal defeat against Uruguay in 2011 and had barely played for Argentina in the meantime.
It didn't matter. He took the brilliant David Ospina out of the equation. On the day Tevez returned to his boyhood club by signing for Boca Juniors, he returned the favour to the Argentinian fans who have loved him for so long.
2. Colombia deserving of exit
After a display such as that, Colombia probably deserve to go out, even if there was considerable merit in their defiance and some of their defending.
Pekerman finally dropped the underperforming Falcao from the start of the game, but his team only raised the temperature of this game with repeated aggression, rather than attacking.
This was a display as violent as what Brazil subjected Colombia to in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinal. Pekerman's side tactically rotated their fouls and, thereby, gradually took the verve out of Argentina. Juan Cuadrado, Alexander Mejia and Santiago Arias could have seen early red cards for repeat fouls. It beggared belief that Colombia kept 11 men on the pitch.
That said, the display wasn't all based on blatant fouling. First of all, Pekerman made another astute -- and brave -- tactical move by realising Argentina were overrunning his midfield and hauling Teo Gutierrez off for Edwin Cardona in just the 24th minute. It worked, and Colombia began to stem the flow.
Secondly, there was the security of strength in numbers. When they weren't fouling, they did fantastically well to oppressively limit Argentina's space. Messi and Sergio Aguero barely had a yard of extra space in which to move, thanks to the speed at which they would be closed down by two Colombians -- most conspicuously Cristian Zapata.
Then, of course, there was Ospina. He offered a career performance with a series of career saves. In the first half, he pulled off a remarkable double stop to deny Aguero and then Messi. In the second, he somehow kept out Nicolas Otamendi's improvised effort from a set piece by touching it onto the post.
The goalkeeper raised the bar, and defender Jeison Murillo met it. Just when substitute Tevez seemed to finally get in behind Ospina late in the second half, the centre-half slid back to clear. It was unfortunate that he was one of the players who then cleared the bar with his penalties. Ospina, meanwhile, couldn't keep Argentina out indefinitely.
3. Semifinal won't be as forgiving for Argentina
Perhaps the most galling thing for Gerardo Martino's side was that they should have won this game in open play, and so many good chances fell to the best player in the world, who seemed determined to put his trophy-less international record right.
The first half of this game was by far Argentina's best performance of the Copa America, and it was on a far higher level than anything they produced in the World Cup.
With Javier Pastore, Angel di Maria and Javier Mascherano so fully applying themselves, they completely overwhelmed Colombia. Just as it defied belief that Pekerman's team didn't have a man sent off, though, it seemed incredible that Argentina couldn't score.
Much of that was down to Ospina, but Martino's side also couldn't sustain its initial sensational pace. That has been a repeated issue throughout this tournament and is something they will have to be mindful of ahead of a semifinal against long-time rivals Brazil or 2011 finalists Paraguay.
There is also the issue that Messi hasn't scored from open play for Argentina in more than 800 minutes of play. He should have done so in this game, and Martino should take heed from the first-half display, in which the number 10 was so central.
That is the team Argentina could be. They are fortunate that failing to take advantage didn't cost them. Now they need to build on it.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.