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Costa Rica opens Gold Cup 2019 with commanding win over Nicaragua

June 16, 2019

LA SABANA, San José — It was a historic match, and one with strong political overtones.

As part of the first Gold Cup match day ever hosted in Central America, the Costa Rican men’s national soccer team met Nicaragua at the National Stadium on Sunday night.

It was less of a home game than the Costa Rican Soccer Federation might have liked. The crowd didn’t near capacity, and about a third of those in attendance wore Nicaragua’s blue and white colors.

But it was the Costa Ricans who cheered last — and loudest — as La Sele earned a 4-0 victory against their northernly neighbors.

Celso Borges’ stellar strike in the 20th minute gave the Ticos an early two-goal advantage and a sorely needed moment of brilliance, as La Sele had struggled under new manager Gustavo Matosas.

Costa Rica cruised from there, opening a commanding 3-0 lead on the last action of the first half on a set piece from Elías Aguilar. No one would mistake the 27-year-old’s cross for a shot, but the curling effort left the Nicaraguan goalkeeper flat-footed as it found the back of the net.

As the core from its legendary 2014 World Cup gets older, perhaps most encouraging from La Sele was its fourth and final goal, scored by dynamic 23-year-old Allan Cruz off a backheel pass from Bryan Ruiz.

Prior to the match, the environment around La Sabana was festive, though not always jovial. Some Nicaraguan fans arrived carrying political messages — “Fuera Ortega” being one — on large signs. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled to Costa Rica due to political tensions in the Central American country.

And that was impossible to ignore Sunday as, for 90 minutes, the international disagreements were represented by 22 men on a pitch.

Game notes: The match was the 300th in Gold Cup history. … In the day’s first match Sunday at the National Stadium, Haiti beat Bermuda, 2-1. … After their first goal, Costa Rican soccer players displayed a jersey for Erick Marín, a Tico soccer player whose cancer returned for a third time earlier this year. … Costa Rica improved to 17-1-0 in 18 matchups against Nicaragua. … Attendance was 19,140.

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