So far, so good for Costa Rica en route to the 2018 World Cup. “La Sele” topped Panama 3-1 Tuesday night at the National Stadium in San José to wrap up its first place finish atop Group B of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying fourth round.
Christian Bolaños scored the first of his two goals in the 18th minute when he snuck a rolling ball just inside the left post to beat the Panamanian goalkeeper.
Bolaños, who plays for Vancouver in the MLS, came back in the 80th minute on a beautiful finish on the other side of the field after having broken away from the defense. The 32-year-old veteran has reignited his play lately and proven he can still be a vital piece for this offense. Even in the disappointing Copa América, he served as the only consistent facilitator in an otherwise sputtering attack.
Fellow MLS-star Ronald Matarrita scored La Sele’s third and final goal of the night in the 85th minute on another jailbreak sequence where he streaked free down the left wing before crossing over a goal to the right side of the net.
Though the match was basically a glorified exhibition since both teams had already sealed their spots in the next round, Costa Rica saw good work from players that coach Óscar Ramírez will need to rely on going forward. Johan Venegas got the start at striker with Joel Campbell behind him. The duo was active the whole game and helped the Ticos control possession.
On the back end, Giancarlo González and Bryan Oviedo got their first starts in a long time. You could argue that both talented defenders should be featured more often going forward as the competition picks up against more dangerous attacks.
In its six group games, the Ticos finished with a 5-1-0 record. Despite some sloppy play along the way, the undefeated streak in qualifying games is a good start for Costa Rica as it heads toward the final round of World Cup qualifying.
Costa Rica will begin the final round of World Cup qualifying at Trinidad & Tobago on Nov. 11. The Ticos are 17-4-3 all-time against The Soca Warriors and lucked out by getting Trinidad & Tobago as the first road game rather than having to immediately travel back to the United States, where they were humiliated 4-0 by the U.S. in June’s Copa América.
Instead, Costa Rica will host the U.S. at the National Stadium on Nov. 15 and should have a good chance of getting revenge on home soil.
The other three teams that have qualified for the Hexagonal are Mexico, Honduras, and Panama. At worst, Costa Rica is the third best team of this group, behind Mexico and the United States. Even if it were to remain so, the Ticos would still qualify for a spot in the 2018 World Cup, as the top three teams get automatic classification.
The fourth place finisher must play an inter-federation tournament to fight for an opportunity to go to Russia.
Costa Rica has a great chance to get six quick points with two wins over Trinidad & Tobago and the U.S. if it can rise to the occasion.