The Óscar Ramírez era got off to a slow and sloppy start, but there’s still a long way until the finish line. With just three weeks to prepare under a new head coach and without its best player, Costa Rica looked flat and out of sync against five-time world champion Brazil in the 1-0 loss at Saturday’s friendly in New Jersey.
“La Sele,” which returns home to Costa Rica to take on Uruguay on Tuesday, still has three exhibition games on its schedule to adapt to Ramirez’s new schemes before 2018 World Cup qualifying begins in November. The new coach is charged with the task of revamping Costa Rica’s defense, which was a recurring problem under former headman Paulo Wanchope.
In the opening minutes of Saturday’s game, La Sele’s defense failed to adjust right away to the Brazilians’ fast pace. Brazil’s David Luiz had a clear shot at goal after Johnny Acosta failed to clear a pass into the box, but goalie Patrick Pemberton’s quick reaction momentarily saved Costa Rica from going down early.
Minutes later Brazil’s “Hulk,” Givanildo Vieira de Sousa, stole the ball from defender Giancarlo González in front of goal and struck an easy score past Pemberton. González, who figures to be Ramírez’s most reliable defender going forward, has struggled ever since his transcendent performance in the 2014 World Cup.
In the 15th minute, Johan Venegas had a golden opportunity to tie the game up after his defender slipped, but young Venegas kicked away the pass from Bryan Ruíz right back to Brazil.
Penalties were hard to come by Saturday, unlike La Sele’s last game against Mexico when 11 yellow cards were doled out, including the controversial penalty that gave the Mexicans the winning score.
In the first half, Ruíz looked to be fouled in the box by a pair of Brazilian defenders who sandwiched him, but no penalty was awarded on the play. Ruíz then scored 10 minutes into the second period but the goal was waived off with an offsides call, although a replay showed Costa Rica’s captain still in limits when the ball entered the box.
A largely pro-Costa Rica crowd — New Jersey counts more Tico residents than any of the other 49 states — took obvious exception to the yellow flag on the sideline as a chorus of boos came from the stands of Red Bull Arena following the call.
Ramírez’s starting lineup featured five defenders on the backline in front of goal, though “Macho,” as the coach is nicknamed, said the lines can remain fluid, depending on what works best for the team going forward.
“Five on the backline is an option that I think can give us a certain stability on defense,” he said in a news conference Friday. “Still I like to change it at anytime, to be flexible and see how the players respond to my variations.”
After not starting, talented striker Joel Campbell entered in the 60th minute for Marco Ureña. The Arsenal forward made his presence known right away with an admirable run to the goal that put immediate pressure on Brazil’s defense.
Brazil’s biggest star, Neymar, didn’t enter until the 81st minute. The Brazilians will next take on the United States men’s national team in Massachusetts on Tuesday.
Though the defense had early lapses on Saturday, it was no fault of Pemberton, the 33-year-old goalie from Ramírez’s former club, Alajuelense, who started in goal in place of Keylor Navas. Navas decided to remain in Spain following this week’s ugly botched trade attempt by his club Real Madrid.
“I don’t want to bring someone here who’s thinking about things going on elsewhere,” Ramírez said Friday. “And I know that he’s stable on the field and strong mentally, so I think the most logical thing was to resolve the problems with his club.”
Costa Rica’s friendly with Uruguay on Tuesday kicks off at 8 p.m. local time at National Stadium.