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CHARLOTTE: Ten-team Colombia beat Uruguay 1-0 to advance to the Copa America final for the first time in 23 years after a thrilling semi-final on Wednesday.

A header by Jefferson Lerma in the 39th minute sealed victory for the Colombians, who will face the defending champions, Argentina, in Sunday’s final in Miami.

It was a chaotic semi-final played in front of a packed and passionate crowd, ending in shoving on the pitch and brawls in the stands, with clashes even breaking out among the players, who got into the crowd and exchanged blows.

Despite the sending off of Daniel Munoz just before half-time and heavy pressure from Uruguay, Colombia managed to claim a famous victory to the delight of their huge crowd of fans.

The streets of the downtown North Carolina city were filled with partying fans in bright yellow Columbia jerseys hours before kickoff.

At the 74,800-seat Bank of America Stadium, the atmosphere was reminiscent of a home game in Bogota, with only a handful of Uruguayan fans breaking up the yellow walls on all four sides of the stadium.

It should come as no surprise that Colombia started the match strongly in such an atmosphere. Liverpool’s energetic winger Luis Diaz fought his way brilliantly to a cross from the left that found Daniel Munoz at the far post, but the defender’s shot went wide.

Uruguay, as usual, were a threat on the counter-attack and their Liverpool star, Darwin Nunez, came close to breaking the deadlock when Rodrigo Bentancur played a clever pass to him, but the striker shot wide.

Nunez had another chance when Maximiliano Araujo played a clean ball to him down the right wing, but the striker rushed his shot, sending it high and wide.

At the other end of the pitch, Colombia forced a turnover and James Rodriguez crossed from the right but Jhon Cordoba headed the ball wide of the goal.

The breakthrough came in the 39th minute when Lerma leapt majestically above Jose Maria Gimenez and confidently headed the ball into the net from Rodriguez’s corner kick.

It was Rodriguez’s sixth assist of the tournament, taking the former Real Madrid midfielder past the record for most assists in a single Copa America, set by Lionel Messi in 2021.

Colombia looked to build on their good run of form, with Richard Rios saving Uruguayan goalkeeper Sergio Rochet’s shot from a pass by Munoz.

But having had such a large influence on the right-hand side in the first half, Munoz lost his cool just before the break and was shown a second yellow card for elbowing Manuel Ugarte.

It was a moment of madness that saw Colombia defend their lead for the entire second half with just 10 men.

Colombia coach Nestor Lorenzo sent off Rodriguez, who had also received a yellow card, in the 62nd minute, allowing Uruguay to gradually turn their numerical advantage into real pressure.

Nicolas de la Cruz threatened with a low shot but substitute Luis Suarez hit the outside of the post after good work by Federico Valverde.

Real Madrid midfielder Valverde then closed in with a low shot as the Colombian defence continued to be fortunate.

The Uruguayan goalkeeper gave the ball away and it went to Mateus Uribe, who, despite the passage of time and space, shot wide of the post.

In stoppage time, Uruguay had a golden opportunity to force a penalty when Nunez passed the ball to substitute Giorgiano de Arrascaeta on the edge of the penalty area, but he leaned back and shot over the crossbar.

Uribe still had time to waste another chance to secure victory, this time hitting the crossbar in the final minute, but the enthusiastic Colombian fans forgave him for his wastefulness.

The celebrations were marred by unpleasant scenes in the stands, which will worry CONMEBOL organisers ahead of a final that is sure to attract a huge number of Argentines and Colombians.

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