Colombia is perfect in Copa America sweep

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Columbia coach Francisco Maturana heard the words used to describe his team's victory in the Copa America: brilliant, historic, overwhelming, perfect ­ he added one of his own.

"Soccer has magic," the coach said, moments after his team had defeated Mexico 1­0 in the final Sunday. "We were forgetting how to smile and we had no joy. Now we do."

Colombia exceeded all expectations in the tournament, completing a six­game sweep without conceding a goal to win Latin America's oldest soccer tournament for the first time ever.

They had the best defence, the tournament's high scorer in Victor Aristizabal ­ even the Fair Play trophy for sportsmanship.

When defender Ivan Ramiro Cordoba leaped over the Mexican defence to head in a corner kick in the 65th minute, it kicked off a celebration and a catharsis for this violence­torn nation.

At the final whistle, the 46,000 fans in El Campin stadium erupted in cries of "Colombia, Colombia" and "We want peace." Fireworks exploded over grandstands, where white bandanas representing peace mixed with the sunburst of red, yellow and blue, Colombia's national colors.

It was also a victory for President Andres Pastrana, who had barely obtained a vote of confidence from Latin American soccer officials who wanted to move the Cup elsewhere or suspend it altogether for fear of violence.

"No country had to fight like we did," said Pastrana, who dubbed the tournament "The Peace Cup." "It's an important step to help achieve peace."

Colombia overcame the early loss of Aristizabal and a valiant Mexican team that battled to the end despite the absence of a handful of starters.

"Colombia is justly champion," said Mexican coach Javier Aguirre. "They showed better soccer. Mexico, on the other hand, played its worst game of the tournament."

Colombia came out pressing and the game was barely five minutes old when Aristizabal bounced a shot off the left post after a nice feed from Giovanny Hernandez.

Play was interrupted briefly at the start as parachutists drifted on to the pitch, and one crashed into the sideline advertising placards.

Mexico, riddled by expulsions and injuries, had trouble getting started. Striker Jared Borgetti and Jesus Arellano were swarmed by Colombian defenders, and Colombia counterpunched dangerously.

But Colombia's attack bogged down when Aristizabal left the field at 30 minutes after a collision with goalie Oscar Perez and was replaced by Jairo Castillo.

Colombia stepped up the pressure at the start of the half, with Castillo and Hernandez just missing. Mexico's Ramon Morales threatened on a free kick that skidded into the area, but keeper Oscar Cordoba made the save on his line.

Then Ivan Cordoba made history, heading in the lone goal on a corner kick by Freddy Grisales.

In the 78th minute, Mexico's Juan Rodriguez was sent off for roughness, and the team never threatened after that.

The Mexicans turned in an excellent campaign with a rebuilding team. In five appearances in the Copa America, they have reached the semifinals four times and the finals twice.

"The day will come when Mexico will the Copa America," Aguirre said. "The distances are shrinking and now we play as equals with the South Americans."

Earlier, Honduras took third place with a 5­4 victory over Uruguay in penalty kicks after a 2­2 tie in regulation.

The Cup enters history as the tournament of surprises. Argentina and Canada refused to attend, defending champion Brazil fell to tiny Honduras and Colombia was perfect.

If it helps bring peace, that would be the biggest surprise of all.


Colombia: Oscar Cordoba, Ivan Lopez, Ivan Ramiro Cordoba, Mario Yepes, Gerardo Bedoya, Freddy Grisales, Fabian Vargas, Juan Carlos Ramirez, Giovanny Hernandez (Mauricio Molina, 87), Elkin Murillo and Victor Hugo Aristizabal (Jairo Castillo, 30).

Mexico: Oscar Perez, Ramon Heriberto Morales, Jesus Arellano (Cesareo Victorino 54), Ramon Morales, Gerardo Torrado, Johan Rodriguez (Daniel Osorno, 67), Alberto Rodriguez, Sigifredo Mercado, Octavio Valdez, Juan Rodriguez and Jared Borgetti.

Referee: Ubaldo Aquino, Paraguay