The football gods would have been better off shielding their eyes from the provincial capital of Guanacaste on Tuesday night. What was already a meaningless friendly for Costa Rica going in against Nicaragua turned into an ugly, virtually uneventful match between two sides lacking talent.
Costa Rica, which was without nearly every significant player the country has, toppled Nicaragua 1-0 from Liberia’s Edgardo Baltodano Stadium. But the performance on the field did little to prove wrong critics who said the game should never have been scheduled after Costa Rica’s Football Federation rushed to find a substitute once a planned match with St. Vincent and the Grenadines fell through.
Kendall Waston, one of “La Sele’s” only experienced players who was called up for the friendly, scored in the 59th minute on a header by out-jumping and out-muscling Nicaragua’s undersized defenders.
One of the only true threats on goal in the first half – for either team– came when Rodney Wallace stole the ball in front of the Nicaraguan goalkeeper in the 26th minute, but was too far left to connect on a shot across goal. Earlier, a corner kick landed right in front of the net as José Mena then seemed to head the ball in for a goal, but officials ruled that Mena fouled the keeper on the play. Nicaragua technically registered one shot on goal in the entire first half, although it was a high volley that never had a chance.
La Sele’s forwards looked lifeless, including Josué Martínez who plays for the University of Costa Rica and was consistently out of sync Tuesday. A promising scoring opportunity in the 35th minute flamed out because of a poor pass from Martínez.
It’s hard to take much away from Óscar Ramírez’s side, which was relegated to a B-team lineup as the country’s biggest stars weren’t called up from their European clubs or the notable domestic clubs like Saprissa and Alajuelense that are still in postseason play. The only players available for Tuesday’s friendly that figure to contribute to the World Cup qualifying rounds going forward were Major League Soccer stars like Waston and Waylon Francis.
Nicaragua, which is coached by Costa Rican-born Henry Duarte, ranks 97th in the latest FIFA rankings, despite already being bounced out of qualifying consideration for the 2016 World Cup. Even against a depleted Costa Rican roster, in a friendly that was mostly inconsequential for the Tico-side, the Nicas still looked outmatched.
The national team is next scheduled to play in March against Jamaica in a qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup. Costa Rica has already jumped out to an early lead in its group after wins last month over Panama and Haiti.