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Fate of Costa Rica’s World Cup chances to be decided

November 6, 2009

The Costa Rican men´s soccer team face Uruguay on Saturday, exactly one month since the Ticos´ match with the United States that missed them a ride to South Africa.

It´s been a tough month for the Costa Rican men´s soccer team.

In their last World Cup qualifying match on Oct. 14, the Tico team, or La Sele, was 15 seconds shy of clinching a place in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when United States midfielder Jonathan Bornstein scored in the 94th minute to tie the game 2-2 and forever earn the title of villain in the hearts of the Costa Rican faithful. Had the Ticos held on to win, they wouldn´t be where they are now – preparing to play in a two-game, do-or-die playoff series with Uruguay for the final World Cup slot allotted to the Western Hemisphere. The playoff will be decided by the combined score of the two games.

“The loss is behind us now,” said Costa Rica midfielder Luis Marín in an interview with FIFA.com. “Of course it was a heavy blow, but mentally we´ve handled it well. Coach René Simoes spoke to us about it and we also looked at how we ourselves were to blame. Only God knows why it had to happen like that, but from now on we´ve simply got to focus on the matches against Uruguay.”

He´s right. If the Ticos can win the two-game series with Uruguay, they´ll taste victory and qualify for the World Cup, and those painful memories will forever be forgotten.

But beating Uruguay will be no easy task.

To say the least, Uruguay´s team, known as Los Charrúas, is a formidable opponent. In addition to their two World Cup championships (1930, 1950), Uruguay is tough at home, losing only twice in Montevideo, the country´s capital, during World Cup qualifying. Those losses were to Brazil, the FIFA No. 1-ranked team in the world, and to perennial powerhouse Argentina. In similar heartbreaking fashion to Costa Rica, Uruguay would have advanced to the World Cup with a win over Argentina in their final qualifying match in Montevideo. However, after outplaying Argentina much of the game, Argentina scored in the 84th minute to dash Uruguay´s qualifying hopes.

The playoff for a final World Cup spot is familiar territory for Uruguay, who played in similar two-game playoffs in 2001 and 2005, both against Australia. In 2001, Uruguay beat Australia to qualify but, in 2005, Australia shocked the soccer world by beating Uruguay on penalty kicks to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

“We mustn´t be overconfident or let our heads drop,” said Uruguayan forward Diego Forlan. “We need to realize that we´re two games away from qualifying and we can do it. Nobody likes being in this position, but we´ve been there before and know how to approach it.”

Game 1 will be played at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. Game 2 will be played Wednesday night at 5 p.m. (local time) at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo.

See the Nov. 13 print or digital edition of The Tico Times for more on this story.

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