SANTIAGO • Chile took another step towards their dream of winning a first Copa America on home soil with a 2-1 win over Peru on Monday but Eduardo Vargas' match-winning double was overshadowed by an early refereeing decision that turned the game the hosts' way.
Carlos Zambrano's harsh sending-off for a high tackle after 20 minutes was the second game in a row that Chile's rivals have been hit with controversial red cards.
The decision was a hard one to swallow for Peru, who, in spite of being underdogs, had started well in front of a capacity crowd at Santiago's National Stadium.
"I think Zambrano's expulsion was a bit tough," Peru striker Paolo Guerrero said. "I don't want to complain about the refereeing but there were a lot of unexpected decisions.
"If it had been 11 against 11, it would have been a different story."
Chile's opponents in last week's quarter-final, Uruguay, were reduced to nine men in controversial fashion with Edinson Cavani and Jorge Fucile sent off in Santiago.
Cavani's red card came after Chile defender Gonzalo Jara stuck his finger up the striker's backside. When he responded with the slightest of touches, Jara fell to the ground theatrically, prompting the referee to send the Uruguayan off.
Chile got the decisive goal shortly after.
Jara later had a three-game ban for provoking Cavani cut to two by Conmebol, the governing body of South American football.
Peru refused to cave in after Zambrano's dismissal and matched their hosts in a pulsating first half.
But just when it looked like the teams would go in all square at half- time, Chile took the lead when striker Vargas poked the ball home from 3m after an Alexis Sanchez cross had come back off the post.
Television replays showed Vargas was marginally offside.
Peru equalised on the hour mark when Luis Advincula whipped in a cross that Gary Medel turned into his own net. But the parity lasted just four minutes as Vargas again did the damage. He picked up the ball in midfield and lashed home an unstoppable strike from 30m.
"Peru made things really difficult for us, even with one man fewer," Chile defender Mauricio Isla acknowledged. "I think the pressure got to us. We were tired."
Chile's coach Jorge Sampaoli suggested the pressure from fans to reach the final as hosts and win the 99-year-old tournament for the first time affected the team.
"We lost our shape," he said. "Defensively, the team struggled to recover the ball. Our anxiety played against us."
Peru's veteran striker Claudio Pizarro lamented Zambrano's dismissal but praised his team-mates for their attitude. "We had to play with 10 men from the start and despite that, I think the team played really well, fighting until the end," he said.
Chile will play the winners of this morning's (Singapore time) semi-final between Argentina and Paraguay in the final.
"It was our obligation to get Chile to the final," Sampaoli said.
"It's an incredible dream and even more so as hosts."
He added that striker Sanchez must regain his best form if Chile are to lift the trophy. "When Alexis is not in full form, Chile feel it," Sampaoli said.
"If he is feeling good, he's the most decisive player in this team. We must ensure that he recovers well because he's vital to us."
Sanchez has shown flashes of his class in the tournament but contributed only one of Chile's 13 goals in five matches.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
S-final: Argentina v Paraguay
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