On Wednesday evening, Costa Rica continued the fantastic run with a 2-0 win against the USA.
On the back of Sunday’s enormous victory in San Salvador on Sunday, La Sele was back in the comforts of a jubilant home crowd, safe in the knowledge they had at the very least secured a World Cup play-offs spot.
To secure a direct spot to the World Cup, they would have to defeat an impressive USA side by a far-fetched 6 goals margin. Or, the slightly more realistic yet also high unlikely beat the USA and Mexico lose to El Salvador, all with a 5 goal swing.
Despite this, spirits and atmosphere were high thanks to an incredible 6 consecutive Octagonal matches, 5 of those being wins, and conceding just 2 goals along the way—an astonishing turnaround from an almost fatal situation just a few weeks ago. Luis Fernando Suárez and his players have quite literally brought Costa Rican World Cup dreams back to life.
In terms of team news, it was all change for Los Ticos from the last outing; with 9 players at risk of missing the upcoming play-off if they were booked, Fernando Suárez rang the changes to give some of the fringe players a go. Francisco Calvo, Bryan Oviedo, Keysher Fuller, Celso Borges, Yeltsin Tejeda, Joel Campbell, and Alonso Martínez were all replaced by Daniel Chacón, Carlos Martinez, Ian Lawrence, Carlos Mora, Orlando Galo, Jewison Bennette and Brandon Aguilera (making his senior international debut) in a youthful-looking Costa Rican side with an average age of just 23.
By contrast, the USA named an experienced, strong-looking lineup, including star players Tyler Adams, Zack Steffen and Christian Pulisic.
The first real chance fell to the USA from a powerful Miles Robinson shot from a corner which Navas smartly saved. Moments later, Ricardo Pepi forced Navas into another save at his near post as the USA high line was pressuring the inexperienced La Sele lineup.
Nonetheless, the young Ticos side grew into the game, with high pressing and energy, and the fluid interchanging of the front 3 of Bennette, Contreras and Mora caused problems. However, extensive fouls sadly marred the half, with Pulisic the main recipient as the game drifted to half-time level, which was a novelty, as Costa Rica had led at half-time in their eight previous home games versus the U.S.
The second half opening exchange saw Navas make another excellent diving save from Miles Robinson’s header.
Moments later, Costa Rica amazingly took the lead against the run of play through a powerful Juan Pablo Vargas header from Aguilera’s teasing corner kick. The goal sent the crowd into pandemonium, as the non-playing squad and players all celebrated together, emphasising the unity of Costa Rican football at the moment.
In the 59th minute, Los Ticos went from pandemonium to heavenly ecstasy when the tireless Contreras got on the end of Ian Lawrence’s cross come shot to double the lead, resulting in a deafening sound inside the Estadio Nacional.
However, sadly, proceedings hit a bit of a lull, with key men Kendall Waston and the incredible Keylor Navas hobbling off with injuries within minutes of each other.
The downbeat reaction of the crowd summed up both players’ importance to the national team. And coach Fernando Suárez will hope that neither injuries are serious going into the crucial World Cup play-off in just 10 weeks.
Despite the team 2 most senior men going off, the La Tricolor saw out the last 20 minutes with relative ease and, in doing so, extended their clean sheet record to an exceptional 475 minutes. It should also be noted that victory also expanded the Costa Rican form of never losing a home game against the USA!
With 7 changes to the lineup, such an amazing performance and result will give Fernando Suárez a welcome selection dilemma, and so many players have put themselves into the frame with the New Zealand play-off tie looming. Competition for places is always healthy and not something La Sele has always been privy to, with the bonus that Costa Rica didn’t pick up any yellow cards for the players facing a possible suspension.
The fact that a makeshift and youthful side gelled so well together and played some of Los Tico’s most attractive football in a while is a testament to Fernando Suárez and his players.
The various youngsters on display can be proud of their efforts in a game against high-class opposition, which gives an exceptionally optimistic glimpse into the future of Costa Rican football.
Below are my player’s ratings:
1) Keylor Navas (C)-9/10 Countless top-class saves, a leader on and off the pitch. Let’s hope the injury is not serious.
2) Carlos Martinez- 8/10 He was solid throughout, kept the dangerous Pulisic quiet all game.
3) Juan Pablo Vargas-9/10 MOTM A outstanding performance; he read the game faultlessly and deserved his first international goal
19) Kendall Waston- 8/10 Standard assertive Waston game, cleared everything in sight; again, let’s hope the injury is okay.
6) Daniel Chacón- 8.5/10 Fitted into the backline with ease, full-blooded performance.
22) Ian Lawrence- 8/10 Non-stop running up and down the left flank, pushing Oviedo and Marriiata for the left-back spot.
15) Carlos Mora- 6.5/10– Quiet came before being replaced in the second half.
14) Orlando Galo- 9/10 Covered every blade of grass, boundless energy.
20) Brandon Aguilera- 8/10 A fearless and impressive debut in the Bryan Ruiz smooth-Esque mould, great assist as well.
9) Jewison Bennette- 7/10 Worked hard without getting too involved.
7) Anthony Contreras- 9/10 Yet again showed his amazing talent, hardworking and dazzling footwork in the challenging lone striker role, deserved his first international home goal.
17) Yeltsin Tejeda (64 minute for Kendall Waston)- 7.5/10 A calming presence in the midfield, using all his experience to see the game out.
16) Alonso Martínez (65 minute for Carlos Mora)- 7.5/10 Looked sharpe when enetering the fray.
4) Douglas López (68 minute for Brandon Aguilera)- N/A
18) Esteban Alvarado (79 minute for Keylor Navas)- N/A
21) José Guillermo Ortiz (79 minute for Jewison Bennette)- N/A
Luis Fernando Suárez- 9/10 Big call to make so many changes, and his decision was vindicated; the fresh side looked energised and dynamic. He also continues his superb form and defensive record (just 8 goals conceded in 14 games).
Next up for Costa Rica is the one-off game against New Zealand in the FIFA World Cup inter-confederation play-offs in mid-June, hosted in Qatar. A gigantic game, with World Cup qualification at stake. And based on recent form, Los Ticos will genuinely fancy their chances.