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Tuesday, July 31, 2001

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Colombia wins maiden Copa America

BOGOTA, JULY 30. Host Colombia won the Copa America, the South American football championship, for the first time, beating Mexico 1-0 with a goal on 65 minutes from defender Ivan Cordoba here on Sunday.

Cordoba scored with a glancing header to give the Colombians a victory they just about deserved at Bogota's El Campin Stadium in front of a raucous confetti-throwing and flag- waving crowd.

The Colombians, who scored 11 goals and conceded none in their six matches, scored a double triumph as they also picked up the Fairplay Trophy and no sooner had they lifted the cup than many of the country's 42 million inhabitants took to the streets for a night of wild celebration.

Many supporters began dancing an enthusiastic rumba having greeted the winning goal with cheers which echoed across the Andes while national television stations broadcast the National Anthem soon after the final whistle.

The indisciplined Mexicans finished with nine men after having Juan Rodriguez dismissed with 11 minutes remaining by Paraguayan referee Ubaldo Aquino, while Gerardo Torrado was also red-carded in the final seconds. Coach Javier Aguirre was also banned from the bench in the first half in a bleak evening for the Mexicans, who were playing their second final having lost in 1993 to Argentina on their first appearance as central American guest participants.

Colombia won in its second final appearance, 26 years after going down to Peru, having marched past Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Honduras before seeing off the Mexicans.

Prolific striker victor Aristizabal served notice that the hosts were not about to let their chance of a first title slip in front of their own fanatical fans as he carved out the first real chance of the game on five minutes, his effort striking the post.

Freddy Grisales then had visiting keeper Oscar Perez under pressure and the Mexican was happy to help the ball out for a corner which came to nothing.

Aristizabal appealed vociferously for a penalty on 24 minutes when he appeared to be bundled over in a Mexican defensive sandwich but the referee was unimpressed. The striker then went off injured to be replaced by Jairo Castillo - but safe in the knowledge he would finish as tournament top scorer with six goals, one more than Paulo Wanchope of Costa Rica. At the other end Jared Borguetti fired off target when well placed in a rare Mexican attack.

But after becoming increasingly frustrated with the stalemate, the crowd went wild as Cordoba finally broke the deadlock, getting in front of a clutch of defenders to flick a header low past Oscar Perez as he met Ivan Lopez's cross from the right.

Mexico had been spraying the ball around confidently until the goal but Cordoba's effort and the resulting increase in crowd volume threw it. Within minutes it was down to ten men.

Rodriguez went for his early bath and in the final 10 minutes it could only resort to strong arm tactics and some crude fouls to keep the Colombians at bay and hope an equaliser would materialise from somewhere.

Many in the crowd had a political message for their leaders as they waved white signs with slogans celebrating the fact the tournament went ahead at all, as it was almost derailed by the political violence sweeping Colombia.

Among onlookers were FIFA President, Sepp Blatter and former Argentine star Diego Maradona, who sat just feet away from beaming Colombian President, Mr. Andres Pastrana. Maradona was the only Argentine to brave the event, his countrymen having withdrawn citing security doubts to allow Honduras to take their place.

Honduras claims third place

Earlier, Honduras claimed an unexpected third place beating 14- times champions Uruguay 5-4 on penalties after 90 minutes left the sides locked at 2-2. Saul Martinez, Honduras' hero in their 2-0 quarterfinal win over Brazil, scored the opener after 14 minutes with a fierce left-foot shot.

Joe Bizera levelled the scores on 21 minutes, before a frenetic period just before the break saw Junior Izaguirre put Honduras back in front on 41 minutes and Andres Martinez equalise on the stroke of half-time.

The second half saw both sides cancel each other's efforts out as the match became increasingly scrappy and penalties had to determine which losing semifinalist claimed the consolation prize of third place.

Reinaldo Pineda, Martinez, Ricky Garcia, Ninrod Medina and Izaguirre duly netted for Honduras but Carlos Gutierrez struck Uruguay's second kick too close to Honduran 'keeper Henry Enamorado.

The goalkeeper, whose name means `In Love', duly won his compatriots' hearts with what proved the vital stop as he conceded efforts from Gonzalo Sorondo, Julio Rodriguez, Rodrigo Lemos and Ruben Olivera. Enamorado, who has played second fiddle for most of the event to first choice Noel Valladares, had earlier made a string of fine saves, one from a stinging Olivera effort bringing the crowd to their feet.

Quite apart from its win over Brazil, Honduras has lit up the tournament having only arrived as last-minute replacements for Argentina, which withdrew amid security fears with Colombia racked by political violence.

The Honduran football federation (Fenafuth) president Lisandro Flores said the team had made the whole country proud. ``This national team surprises us more with every day. They did extraordinarily,'' Flores told Honduran radio station America.

``The important thing was the vision of (coach Ramon) Maradiaga as the way he brought these players together was extraordinary. Third place is an honour for football in our country,'' said Flores.

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