Anyone from the Midwest can tell you about about summer storms. The rain here isn’t the mistings or gentle precipitation that other regions are so familiar with. Rain here is a violent event, one that draws with it earth-shaking thunder and high winds that push lorries off the road. This is tornado country, a place where weather is such a spectacle, it gets movies made about it.
Fitting, then, that the rain made a greater impression than any of the star players and the highly ranked teams in the Copa America semi-final between Colombia and Chile.
Not that the play was bad. In a dry and carefree first half, Chicago saw a few bright moments from Alexis Sanchez, and James Rodriguez created more than a few decent openings. Chile’s two early goals, which were ultimately enough to see off the Colombians, were first rate, equal to the reputation as one of the best national teams on the planet.
The first came in the seventh minute, when Charles Aranguiz capitalized on Juan Cuadrado’s poorly headed clearance in the box. The second arrived within minutes, this time from Jose Pedro Fuenzalida, who rebounded Sanchez’s shot after it bounced off the near post.
Colombia had chances as well, particularly Roger Martinez’s shot in the 23rd minute and another right on the stroke of half from Carlos Sanchez, but Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was equal to eveverything that was thrown at him.
But it was a pedestrian affair after the opening stages. The real star waited in the distance. From the preamble warnings all day to the looming clouds before kickoff, the stage was set for something special. It held off, like any diva would, allowing an entire half to pass as a warmup act. But then it let loose.
Then, the storm rolled in. With pace that would make Sanchez blush, the clouds erased the skyline, turning a dimming twilight sky into full dark. The stands were cleared, the restart delayed. Lightning flashed overhead as the crowd packed under the cover of the east and west stands, held back by warning messages over the stadium speakers for the entire length of another match.
The rain fell in a solid sheet of white, drenching the seats while the crowd watched with admirable stoicism as the game drifted away from them.
Despite early hopes that the delay might only be thirty minutes, it was thirty minutes before the storm got going. By then, the pitch was more sea than land. As the wind swirled about, drenching all areas of tentative shelter, that delay expanded to 75 minutes. And then beyond.
The fans largely stuck around, fearing perhaps the weather waiting for them at the exits, refilling the stadium with an eagerness that defied the continued calls from the voice over the speakers to remain huddled out of the downpour.
Finally, two hours after the teams departed for the half, they reemerged to warm up for the second half.
The fans reseated, they amused themselves with the traditional activities of a bored audience after the main show is over: sending the wave around a few times and laughing while the daring and foolish jumped the barrier and gave security a good jog across the pitch.
The TV crews, meanwhile, kept the audience at home from switching stations by focusing their leering cameras on the women dancing around in the last drops of the passing deluge.
With the threat of tornados at the borders of the city, the two teams got back to it. Despite the efforts of the stadium crew to shuffle the water off, every step stirred up puddles.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Colombians, more accustomed to the demands of the heavy rainfall, came out the better in the early stages of the water-logged second half. While Chileans went sliding about, Los Cafeteros looked sturdy on their feet, taking advantage of their already more successful passing and possession game from the first 45.
James and company were bright on their return and even as Chile adjusted and enjoyed a decent run of play, the Colombians were faster, more confident on the surface. But it all went wrong in the 56th minute, as Carlos Sanchez, who had been excellent so far, was dismissed for a foul on Charles Aranguiz collecting his second yellow card in the process.
Colombia remained bold for a while longer, but the game was over. Increasingly, it became clear that no matter the advantage of weather or spirit in this second half, Chile was going to the final.
In the end, despite Colombia’s admirable effort, nothing in the second half outperformed the thunderstorms that had arrested play. In a game in two different climates, Chile proved the better team on the field, but the clouds will be better remembered than the play.