Colombia beats Paraguay 2-1 in Copa America opener, extends winning streak to 9 – Metro US

Colombia beats Paraguay 2-1 in Copa America opener, extends winning streak to 9

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A pitch invader attempts to evade security guards at the end of a Copa America Group D soccer match between Colombia and Paraguay in Houston, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON (AP) — Daniel Muñoz scored in the 32nd minute and Jefferson Lerma in the 42nd as Colombia opened the Copa America with a 2-1 victory over Paraguay on Monday night that extended its winning streak to nine.

Colombia, which had 66% possession, is unbeaten in 24 games since a 1-0 loss at Argentina in a World Cup qualifier on Feb. 1, 2022, winning 19 and drawing five.

James Rodríguez set up both Colombia goals in his 101st international match, which drew a pro-Colombia crowd of 67,059 to NRG Stadium;

“The players are very focused,” Colombia coach Néstor Lorenzo said through an interpreter. “They are very humble. They know this is a game-by-game situation. Today we had a tough match, and they prevailed. They know what is the right direction and what to do, and the most important match is the next match.”

Julio Enciso scored Paraguay’s goal in the 69th minute.

Colombia plays Costa Rica on Friday at Glendale, Arizona, and Brazil on July 2 at Santa Clara, California. Paraguay finishes Group D against Brazil on Friday at Las Vegas and Costa Rica on July 2 in Austin, Texas.

Colombia won the title in 2001 and lost to Argentina on penalty kicks in a 2021 semifinal. Paraguay won in 1953 and 1979 and was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the last two editions.

Rodríguez picked out a long cross to Muñoz for an open 8-yard header, Muñoz’s second goal in 28 international appearances. Lerma scored on a glancing header from the middle of the penalty area on Rodríguez’s free kick.

“James is very skillful with the ball,” Lorenzo said. “He has great control. We always practice set pieces. They were marking in the zone. The idea was to win the possession, and if the ball reaches you, then you can touch it and put it in the back of the net. Lerma is a great jumper.”

Rodrigo Morínigo, a 25-year-old goalkeeper, made his national team debut after Carlos Coronel started in June friendlies against Chile and Panama.

Enciso scored his first goal for Paraguay, beating Davinson Sánchez to Ramón Sosa’s cross at the far post and redirecting the ball past goalkeeper Camilo Vargas.

“He’s one of our best options,” Paraguay coach Daniel Garnero said of Enciso, speaking through an interpreter. “We try to find him behind the line of the midfielders or defenders. Sometimes it’s tough.”

“When they have ball possession, it was tough to recover it, but I think it was an even game,” Garnero said. “We didn’t manage to bring home the points, but we tried to level the strength with the opponent.”

Colombia was awarded a penalty kick by referee Dario Herrera of Argentina in the 84th minute after Gustavo Velázquez held the shirt of Yerry Mina in the penalty area but the call was reversed in a video review.

AP Copa America coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/copa-america