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Mexico, Colombia battle for Copa title

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BOGOTA, Colombia — Its success bringing an unusual show of national unity, unbeaten Colombia plays Mexico on Sunday for the Copa America title.

"The dream depends on just 90 more minutes," wrote the Bogota newspaper El Espectador. "One more game that will be played with the souls of 40 million Colombians."

Colombia has won all five of its games without yielding a goal. Like Mexico, Colombia has never won Latin America's oldest and most prestigious soccer tournament.

This will be the first final since 1987 without Brazil or Argentina. Colombia reached the final only once, losing to Peru in 1975. Mexico reached the final in 1993 when it made its tournament debut, losing to Argentina.

Mexico is clearly capable of spoiling the party. Its credentials include a 1-0 win over defending champion Brazil and a 2-1 defeat of 14-time winner Uruguay.

The Mexicans have always done well in Copa America, ever since the tournament was opened to non-South American teams in 1993. And the loss in the final that year still rankles Mexican coach Javier Aguirre.

"We lost and we didn't like it," he said. "Eight years have passed. We have learned from our mistakes and we expect not to repeat them."

This is a fittingly unusual conclusion to an event that has brought one surprise after another.

The surprises began before the tournament opened — which nearly didn't happen at all. A rash of bombings and political kidnappings led South American soccer authorities to suspend the tournament. It was reinstated barely a week before kickoff.

Still, Argentina and Canada refused to come, and some top names also stayed home. Many teams had unfamiliar looks, choosing to rebuild or rest their stars for World Cup qualifying.

There were more surprises on the field. Defending champion Brazil fell to Honduras, a last-minute replacement for Argentina that went all the way to the semifinals. Ecuador was knocked out in the first round, while modest Peru ousted Paraguay.

Colombia was expected to do well but not this well.

The team will be at full strength against Mexico. Leading the Colombian attack is Victor Aristizabal, the tournament's high scorer.