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Copa America tourney set for Colombia, after all



BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- In a surprise announcement, soccer officials late Thursday said the 2001 Copa America will kick off next week in Colombia, reversing a decision to postpone the tournament for a year because of security concerns in the war-torn country.

The tourney will begin on July 11 and run through July 29, its original dates. It will mark the first time Colombia has hosted the event.

Days after rebels kidnapped a top Colombia soccer official, officials postponed the games over security concerns at the request of participating teams. The leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, released the official, Hernan Mejia Campuzano, three days after he was abducted.

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The kidnapping followed a wave of bombings last month that left 12 people dead and about 200 injured. Members of Argentina's soccer team complained they had received death threats and kidnapping threats if they participated in the tournament.

But Colombian officials, who had fought hard in recent years to host the tournament, strongly protested the games' postponement, saying it sent the wrong message by giving in to rebel groups. Colombian President Andres Pastrana defiantly said: "We have not lost the rights to realize the Americans cup."

Late Thursday, soccer officials agreed, deciding the games should go forward.

Second only to World Cup

The Copa America, held every two years, brings together the top teams from South America. The soccer tournament is the second-most popular to soccer-loving fans in the continent, behind only the World Cup, held every four years.

Soccer aficionados said postponing the Copa America could have put South American teams at a major disadvantage in the 2002 World Cup, scheduled for May and June in South Korea and Japan.

The move also had serious political implications, especially given the tourney's popularity and Colombia's tumultuous political situation. Colombian officials worked feverishly to host the event, hoping it would boost the country's tarnished international image.

The participating teams include ten South American countries. Mexico and Canada were also invited to participate this year.






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• Copa América (in Spanish)
• Presidency of Colombia (in Spanish)

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