David Ospina comes up huge to push Colombia to Copa America semis

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – “The greatest, David Ospina,” read a tweet posted by James Rodríguez from Colombia’s locker room minutes after the game ended. 

The Colombian captain was referring, of course, to his brother-in-law’s performance at MetLife Stadium on Friday night against Peru (Rodriguez is married to the goalkeeper’s sister). Ospina was fundamental in Colombia’s qualification to the Copa América Centenario semifinals, making a crucial kick save in the penalty kick shootout following a scoreless draw in front of 79,194 people.

“David is huge, he’s unique and hopefully he’s with this team for many more years,” said Rodríguez after the game, wiping away his tears of joy.

The Arsenal goalkeeper kept a clean sheet during the 90 minutes, and while he wasn’t tested too much during the game, he came up big in second-half stoppage time. With the seconds ticking away, Peru’s Christian Ramos got on the end of a corner kick, dangerously heading a shot on frame that Ospina palmed over the bar with a quick reaction save.

That was just a taste of what was to come a few minutes later during the shootout.

With the three Colombian and first two Peruvian players netting their shots, Ospina stood in front of Miguel Trauco. The Peruvian left back made a short run-up and kicked the ball down the middle as the Cafeteros’ No. 1 dove to his left, stretching his right leg toward the middle as much as he could.

Amazingly, Ospina’s foot stopped Trauco’s shot. The block paved the way for Colombia’s win, which was confirmed two shots later when Christian Cueva hit his penalty well over the bar.

“Happiness, just happiness,” Ospina told a Colombian TV station before walking off the field. “I’m very excited because we knew it could come down to penalties and I had worked in every little detail.”

As he was concluding his flash interview, Rodríguez came into picture, hugged Ospina and both went on to celebrate with the multitudes of Colombian supporters in East Rutherford.  

Ospina’s efforts have Colombia in their first Copa America semifinal since 2004, and their first semi in any competition since they made the last four at the 2005 Gold Cup. The win was also gave Colombia a measure of revenge against Peru, who defeated the Cafeteros after extra time in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America.

CONMEBOL decided prior to last year’s Copa America that Knockout Round matches that were tied after 90 minutes would move straight to a penalty kick shootout. The championship match is the lone exception and will include extra time if tied after regulation.

“We’re thrilled because of the work we do as a team and the outcome of this match makes us very happy,” Ospina told media after the game. “We knew it was going to be a very intense match where both teams were going to have minimum chances. That’s when one’s attentiveness is crucial.”

Colombia will now face the winner of Saturday’s game between Mexico and Chile in Santa Clara, California (10 pm ET; FS1, Univision). Ospina’s reflexes are surely going to be needed again against the likes of Javier Hernandez or Alexis Sanchez.

And Colombian fans are relieved to have Ospina on goal. The Arsenal man has allowed a total nine goals in his last ten matches, but only one in three matches (he sat out their 3-2 loss to Costa Rica) this Copa America.

If his performance in the semifinals leads to another successful night for his team in Chicago, it could be Colombia’s first final on an international competition since 2001.

“We have always dreamed but always with our head on our shoulders,” acknowledged the 27-year old ‘keeper. “We’ve lived this tournament step by step. Our effort, our desire and the togetherness we’ve shown as a family have been very important.”

Colombia’s last and most recent experience in a championship game was fruitful. That year, 2001, they won the Copa America title on home soil after a header by long-time captain Ivan Ramiro Cordoba gave them a 1-0 win against Mexico at Estadio El Campín in Bogotá.

The yellow, blue and red backdrop they’ve brought along with them to the four stadiums they’ve played at, with an average attendance of 58,800 in their four games, clearly states they are one of the teams playing as locals in this Copa America.

“The crowds have been amazing with us and have supported us in every city,” said Ospina. “I’m very happy to see this stadium filled with Colombians, chanting our names and feeling their support.”

Colombia will travel to Chicago on Sunday afternoon ahead of next Wednesday’s semifinal at Soldier Field.