SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile's hopes of winning its home Copa America sharply improved with a 1-0 win over defending champion Uruguay on Wednesday.
Defender Mauricio Isla scored an 81st-minute winner to lead the hosts to the semifinals of the South American tournament, delighting the home crowd and an entire country.
Chile dominated the game from the start and Isla finally broke the deadlock with a low shot from just inside the area after a pass by Jorge Valdivia, advancing his team to the tournament's semifinals for the first time in 16 years.
"This is the most important goal I've scored in my life," said Isla, who is coming off a difficult season with Queens Park Rangers in England. "For being at home, with the national team, for everything."
Chile will play the winner of Thursday's match between Bolivia and Peru. In the other quarterfinal matchups, Argentina plays Colombia and Brazil faces Paraguay.
Uruguay, trying to make it to the semifinals for the sixth-straight time, played a man down from the 63rd after star striker Edinson Cavani was shown his second yellow card of the match for apparently slapping Chile's Gonzalo Jara away from the ball. Television images later showed that Cavani reacted immediately after Jara provoked him by putting his hand on the Uruguayan's behind.
Cavani's first yellow was for complaining with the linesman in the 30th.
Cavani entered the match enduring a personal ordeal back in Uruguay, where his father was detained after allegedly driving drunk and being involved in an accident that killed a motorcyclist.
Uruguay lost another player in the 88th, when defender Jorge Fucile also was sent off for a second yellow. Uruguay players loudly complained to Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci and a linesman, and the game was stopped for nearly five minutes. Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was sent off for leaving the coaches' box.
"We played a good match considering the opponent we were playing against. We were able to limit (their chances)," Tabarez said. "After we went down to 10 men, things became a bit more difficult because we had fewer chances to attack."
Chile is trying to win the Copa America for the first time and is considered one of the main title favorites thanks to a "Golden Generation" of players that include Valdivia, Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Claudio Bravo. It reached the last 16 at the World Cup in Brazil, being eliminated by the hosts on penalties.
"Chile played well and beat a very difficult opponent," Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli said.
Chile hadn't made it to the Copa America semifinals since the 1999 tournament in Paraguay.
The last time Uruguay failed to advance past the quarterfinals was in the 1997 tournament in Bolivia. Uruguay had eliminated the hosts in the quarterfinals of the previous two editions of the Copa America: Argentina in 2011 and Venezuela in 2007.
Chile attacked from the start at the Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez, with Uruguay relying on its solid defense and trying to find spaces to counterattack. Although Chile kept possession, it struggled to get many shots on goal.
"It was difficult, we knew what we were up against, we knew that Uruguay is used to playing in these situations, we knew that it wasn't going to be easy," said Chile goalkeeper and captain Claudio Bravo. "We had the patience to score, we had the patience to control the game."
Isla's winner came after Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera tried to clear a cross and the ball went straight to Valdivia. The playmaker quickly passed to Isla, who touched it forward and fired the low shot through defenders and into the right corner.
Chile came into the match with the Copa America's best offense with 10 goals, twice as many as any other team.
The match happened the same day Chilean authorities said Vidal will face additional charges for insulting police officers after crashing his Ferrari while driving drunk last week. He initially had his driver's license suspended for four months, but was allowed to stay with the team in the Copa America. Vidal entered the quarterfinals as the tournament's top scorer with three goals.
Chile made it to the tournament's final four times, but not since 1987 in Argentina, when it lost 1-0 to Uruguay, the Copa America's most successful nation with 15 titles, one more than Argentina.