Jewish coach leads Colombia soccer team to 3rd place in Copa tournament


(JTA) — Colombia’s national soccer team finished third in the prestigious Copa America Centenario tournament led by its Jewish coach, Jose Pekerman.

Colombia defeated the United States, 1-0, on Saturday in the bronze medal match at University of Phoenix Stadium. Sixteen countries competed in the centennial edition of the tournament, which ended Sunday with Chile beating Argentina in the title match.

Pekerman took over as Colombia’s coach in January 2012 and “has overseen a renaissance” with the Colombian national team, according to the Copa America websiteHe is a former midfielder with the Argentine national team.

He was born in Villa Dominguez in the Argentine countryside, one of the main centers of Jewish immigration to Argentina. His grandparents came from Ukraine. Pekerman lived in the Buenos Aires Jewish neighborhood of Villa Crespo.

In the finals, played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Chile defeated Argentina on penalty kicks, 4-2, after the game ended in a scoreless tie. Argentine star Lionel Messi missed his penalty shot, later asserting that he will no longer play for his national team.

In April, Messi was ripped as “Jewish” and “Zionist” after donating cleats to an Egyptian charity. Messi, a Catholic, visited the Western Wall on a peace tour in August 2013 with the Barcelona club. One year later, Messi supported a soccer match organized by Pope Francis to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but he did not play in the match due an injury.

The Copa tournament celebrated 100 years as the oldest national team cup in the world. Some 1.5 million fans attended the 32 games held in 10 venues across the United States, for an average of more than 46,000 fans per game, making it the most attended Copa America in the tournament’s history.

Along with record-setting attendance, more than 100 million viewers watched the games on the Univision and FOX networks, including the most-watched men’s soccer match ever on the FS1 network for the USA vs. Argentina semifinal on June 21. The tournament has been televised in more than 160 countries around the world, reaching more than 1.5 billion households.

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