Costa Rica and Canada both sit atop Group A of the CONCACAF Gold Cup with four points, after playing to a tie on Tuesday night.
Both teams are close to qualifying for the quarterfinals of the championship, but La Sele’s level of play remains disappointing. The Costa Rican side displayed a strong offense during the first 15 minutes of the match, held in Houston, which allowed them within striking distance of Canada’s goal a couple of times. However, the team, as in its recent matches, struggled to get the ball to the back of the net.
Coach Óscar Ramírez — just as he did in the previous match against Honduras — sent to the field a mostly defensive lineup made up of five defenders, four midfielders and only one forward. That conservative strategy became evident when the closest attempts to score came from sudden incursions from defender Francisco Calvo.
Striker Marco Ureña constantly tried to penetrate the Canadian defensive line during the first twenty minutes. However, he seemed to struggle without a teammate on the offensive line, sending shots over the goal or watching them deflected by Canadian goalie Milan Borjan.
Bad news for La Sele came at 24’ when midfielder Joel Campbell was injured as a result of a tackle from behind. David Ramírez replaced him, but had little impact on the offensive line.
Just two minutes later, Canada’s teen sensation Alphonso Davies scored the opener. The 16-year-old netted a pass from the right that crossed the entire box in front of La Sele’s entire defensive line.
The goal, as well as Canada’s defensive game, prompted coach Ramírez to modify his system to a four-man defensive line. He sent Kenner Gutiérrez to the midfield, on a mission to recover the ball.
This adjustment allowed La Sele to regain control of the game and improve its attack.
Calvo kept supporting the offensive line, and his efforts paid off at 42’ when he scored the equalizer with a potent header from a corner shot.
Midfielder David Guzmán almost put the team ahead just seconds before halftime, but Borjan deflected his shot. Guzmán was later replaced by Yeltsin Tejeda, also due to an injury.
La Sele entered the second half looking to double the advantage, but constant efforts to penetrate the Canadians’ strong defense were ineffective. The North Americans closed ranks and played most of the second half on their own side, waiting for Los Ticos. They even replaced Davies, and it was clear that coach Octavio Zambrano was happy with the draw.
La Sele kept trying to push forward. However, Borjan, and the Ticos’ bad aim, kept the tie in place.
Later on Tuesday, the match between Honduras – French Guiana ended with a scoreless draw, which benefited both Costa Rica and Canada.
Costa Rica will play the final match of the group stage against French Guiana on Friday at 5:30 p.m. (Central Time) at the Toyota Stadium in Dallas, Texas. Canada will play Honduras also in Dallas at 8 p.m.
Costa Rica 1 – 1 Canada
Stadium: BBVA Compass, Houston
Referee: Mark Geiger (USA)
Player of the match: Francisco Calvo (CR)
Costa Rica: Francisco Calvo (42′)
Canada: Alphonso Davies (26′)
Costa Rica: Patrick Pemberton – Christian Gamboa (José A. Salvatierra, 73′), Johnny Acosta, Giancarlo González, Kenner Gutiérrez, Francisco Calvo – David Guzmán (Yeltsin Tejeda, 61′), Bryan Ruiz, Rodney Wallace – Joel Campbell , Marco Ureña. Coach: Oscar Ramírez
Canada: Milan Borjan – Michael Petrasso, Dejan Jakovic, Steven Vitoria, Samuel Adekugbe – Scott Arfeld, Samuel Piette, Mark-Anthony Kaye – David Junior Hoilett (Lucas Cavallini, 77′), Anthony Jackson-Hamel Davies (Fraser Aird, 69′). Coach: Octavio Zambrano.