The United States qualified for the Qatar 2022 World Cup on Wednesday in San Jose despite losing 2-0 on the last day of CONCACAF qualifying against Costa Rica, which will play a playoff against New Zealand.
The match, held at the Estadio Nacional in San José, was settled by goals from Juan Pablo Vargas (51st) and Anthony Contreras (60th).
After the defeat, the North Americans dropped to third place in the final round of 16, the last one that grants a direct ticket to the Asian event, with 25 points, the same as Costa Rica, but with a higher goal difference (+11 over +5).
The other two teams already in Qatar are Canada and Mexico.
The United States landed in Costa Rica knowing that they could lose by up to five goals and still qualify for Qatar.
However, true to their style, the Americans came out to win on someone else’s field and with the intention of breaking history, because they have never won in Costa Rica.
From the very first minutes, the visitors harassed Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who was once again the star of the show with some amazing saves.
Every time they reach his goal, he reacts and delivers. That gives peace of mind to the rest of his team and to the whole country, which celebrates every time he saves the ball.
For their part, Costa Rica, aware of the utopian mathematical possibility of winning by six goals in order to secure a direct place, kept its top players on yellow cards for the playoffs.
However, what perhaps none of the coaches imagined, neither Luis Fernando Suarez in Costa Rica nor Gregg Berhalter in the USA, was that with a team full of young players, half of them under 20 years of age, Costa Rica would play its best game in years and, undoubtedly, the best of its octogonal.
After enduring the minutes of pressure, Costa Rica surrendered to the energy of its young players and dismantled the United States. Chelsea star Christian Pulisic did not show up due to the pressure put upon him by Costa Rica. And so, the Los Tico’s began to reach Zach Steffen’s goal.
Vargas scored with an accurate header in the 61st minute to ignite the crowd in San José. Shortly thereafter, Anthony Contreras scored the second goal with a close-range finish in the 60th minute to put the game away.
The United States did not want to hurt themselves anymore and even stopped attacking and simply waited for the final whistle, to feel confident about their moving on to Qatar.
For their part, the Costa Ricans celebrated as if they were already in the world cup, because for a moment during the round of 16, the World Cup was more than a long way off.
It was thanks to an almost impeccable second half, in which they collected 19 out of a possible 21 points and conceded only two goals, that they were able to shoot up the standings and overtake Panama, who in the end finished fifth with 21 points.
“We were able to defend quite well in the last few games. We had a lot of finals. Many stopped believing, we had to block negative things coming from outside, but that helped us, it united the group,” said Navas.
The playoff between Costa Rica and New Zealand will be played in June, in Qatar, with only one match.