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How Colombia flipped the narrative in their Copa America win over the U.S.

Weak in the air? Sure didn't seem like it.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the Copa América Centenario opener between the U.S. and Colombia on Friday, one main weakness was recited for the favored Colombians.

"They'll be at a disadvantage in the air, so they will have to be careful in particular on set pieces."

The outcome? Colombia, the team known for their brilliant counterattack, won the set piece battle, in a 2-0 win over the U.S. at Levi's Stadium.

Yes, Colombia outplayed the U.S. overall on the night. They certainly deserved to win. But they matched the Americans play for play in aerial situations and converted their two key set pieces on the night. The U.S., meantime, had a symmetrical two key set pieces themselves, but stops off the line and by the goalkeeper thwarted their hopes of a comeback.

Of course, neither of Colombia's set piece goals were booming headers, but Cristian Zapata's opener was a clever strike in space off a corner kick, and James Rodriguez took care of business from the spot in converting the game's only penalty.

Such is the nature of tournament play in general, and of opening games in particular, that set pieces make such an impact much of the time. But Colombia also held their own in the aerial game, and the U.S.'s passivity prevented them from being tested much at all in the air.

So beyond the obvious "One team succeeded in set pieces and the other did not," what's the takeaway from this game?

Jurgen Klinsmann is getting killed for saying postmatch that the game was even. It was and it wasn't -- the stats (except for goals, of course) were largely even, and Colombia only had one clear-cut chance from the run of play, when Carlos Bacca's breakaway shot bounced off the post.

But if you go up 1-0 in the eighth minute, in the opening game of a tournament, played in the opponent's country, of course the incentive to boldly attack dissipates. And the U.S., who could not create any really good chances inside the box in the run of play, who wasted several free kicks in the first half by blasting them into the wall, didn't force Colombia to really sweat. As a result, Colombia took the lead, held it, and walked away with the vital three points.

It looks like the old USMNT hesitation is back, which is a bad thing, of course. Here's hoping for their sake that Colombia the sleeping giant has awakened on this night.

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