Peru coach Ricardo Gareca has pointed to Carlos Zambrano’s controversial red card as the turning point in their 2-1 defeat to Chile.
The Peruvians’ title bid ended at the semi-final stage for the second Copa in a row, after a double from Eduardo Vargas.
Zambrano was dismissed in the first half for a studs-up collision into the back of Charles Aranguiz, and Gareca confessed that his team’s re-adjustment from that point was not enough to keep Chile at bay.
“Playing so much time with a man down against [the hosts] is difficult. Now we must try to recover and figure out the best way to fight from this position in the [World Cup] qualifiers,” Gareca told a news conference.
“The expulsion changed the plan we had. We had to reset the defence because we lost a great man there. It happened in seconds. We tried to reassemble the back four.
“We must always end with 11 men.
“It is a learning experience and can happen to any player because this is a hotly contested [game].
“It would be good for it not to happen, but it’s all good with Carlos [Zambrano], who had a great Copa in other respects. It is important for it not happen again.”
Gareca was quick to heap praise on his team for their fighting spirit, where they managed to briefly draw level in the second half despite their numerical disadvantage.
“We gave it [our] all, I congratulate the boys. We played and gave everything in the field. We had the dream of reaching the final but did not. The assurance that we had left us,” he added.
“It does not make up for the fact that we lost. I know that the boys gave their all on the field. We could not give that joy to the people. We will continue to grow and this will empower us with time.”
Gareca was also magnanimous in defeat, commending Chile for their performance, and naming them as his favourites for the title.
“Today, Peru was eliminated by virtue of Chile,” he said.
“Chile is a strong candidate to be champion. This was true before the Copa and is now reaffirmed. These games are different and there is a lot of pressure. But they solved the game and that has merit.”
Peru will contest the third-place play-off for a second straight Copa, facing the loser from Argentina’s semi-final with Paraguay on Tuesday.