In front of a sparse yet vocal home crowd, Los Ticos played out a comprehensive 2-0 victory over a plucky Martinique.
Goals either half from Joel Campbell and Francisco Calvo ensured that Costa Rica gained their first victory of the CONCACAF Nations League campaign and put the defeat to Panama 3 days ago firmly behind them.
Before kick-off, the squad were knocked by the recent news that defender Juan Pablo Vargas and goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado have come down with COVID and will miss the World Cup play-off fixture on June 14th, particularly in the case of Vargas, a considerable blow for the side.
In team news, coach Luis Fernando Suárez rang the changes, with only left-back Bryan Oviedo retaining his place from Friday’s defeat in Panama, as Suárez opted for a more experienced line-up, with key players Óscar Duarte, Francisco Calvo, Celso Borges, Yeltsin Tejeda and Joel Campbell coming into the starting line-up.
In huge contrast to Los Ticos, it was a vastly inexperienced Martinique side, with 5 players making just a second international appearance and 3 debuting.
Costa Rican controlled the first quarter, in which they held 70% possession and nearly scored in the 15th minute when Celso Borges’s spectacular control and volley sailed narrowly over the bar.
In the 25th minute, Martinique hit the bar after a superb free-kick effort, a warning to Costa Rica of what they could offer.
However, minutes later, Los Ticos opened the scoring with a composed finish from Joel Campbell after he latched onto an intelligent through ball from Johan Venegas.
The rest of the half was dominated by La Sele, with the ball behind the high Martinique defensive line a persistent threat.
The beginning of the second half was a relative lull in proceedings until the 58th minute when Costa Rican goalkeeper Aarón Cruz produced a smart save at his near post; this was followed by an even better one 13 minutes later, after some sloppy defensive work, as the away side began to look more and more dangerous on the counterattack.
Joel Campbell nearly doubled the scoreline in the last 10 minutes with a fantastic individual effort which flew just wide. Moments later, Cruz made yet another outstanding save after sloppy work from Óscar Duarte.
Finally, Costa Rica settled the tie with just 3 minutes to go, with the impressive Francisco Calvo tapping-in a smart cross from his centre-back partner Duarte. And with the goal, a huge sigh of relief was let out all around the Estadio Nacional.
The lively Anthony Contreras nearly added a third in stoppage time, but his effort was painstakingly cleared off the line by the Martinique defender.
In the end, La Sele had to settle for a 2-0 victory and gain a valuable clean sheet, for a side built on a solid defensive unit, this was nearly as important as scoring. A nice send off to the loyal fans as the team now prepares to set off for Doha to face New Zealand in just 9 days!
Here are my player’s ratings:
1) Aarón Cruz- 9/10 (MOTM) Finally may have found a suitable deputy for Keylor Navas; he made 3/4 outstanding saves to keep the slender lead intact.
22) Carlos Martínez-7/10– Caught out a couple of times, but an overall solid display, the right-back spot is his to lose now.
6) Óscar Duarte-7.5/10– Couple of sloppy moments on the ball, but he also made some world class interceptions and chipped in with an unlikely assist for the second goal.
15) Francisco Calvo- 8.5/10– As usual, the San Jose Earthquakes man was a rock at the back and capped his display off with the winning goal.
8) Bryan Oviedo-6.5/10– Solid if not unspectacular.
17) Yeltsin Tejeda- 8/10– The team’s engine in the middle of the park never stopped running.
5) Celso Borges (Captain)-8.5/10– The metronome of this national side, his vision and on-ball intelligence are second to none.
4) Keysher Fuller-6.5/10– Quite display from the Herediano player before being replaced at half-time.
11) Johan Venegas- 7.5/10– Picked up some really smart position and pockets in-between the Martinique defence and delivered a sumptuous ball for the opening goal; however, he faded in the second-half.
13) Gerson Torres-7/10– A few memorable moments but didn’t quite get going.
12) Joel Campbell-8.5/10– Finished expertly for the opener and was a constant thorn in the Martinique defence’s side.
7) Anthony Contreras (45 minute for Keysher Fuller)- 8.5/10– Caught the eye in the second-half; everything positive involved him, unlucky not to score; his balance, intelligence and technical ability are a huge asset to La Sele.
16) Ian Lawrence (45 minute for Bryan Oviedo)- 6.5/10– Got up and down the left-hand side rapidly without having any standout moments.
3) Daniel Chacón (72 minute for Gerson Torres)- N/A
21) Carlos Mora (72 minute for Celso Borges)-N/A
10) Brandon Aguilera (85 minute for Celso Borges)- N/A
Luis Fernando Suárez-8.5/10– Got the tactics and substitutes spot on today, no further injuries, as well as vital minutes for first-team players in preparation for the play-off match. The real test of his acumen will be the New Zealand showdown, with many questions regarding team selection still up for debate.
A victory was imperative not only for the Nations League campaign, but also for team confidence leading up to the more important play-off game.
Costa Rica now has a short break to prepare in Doha before taking on New Zealand in the World Cup play-off decider on June 14th, at 13:00 CST.
Let’s cheer the boys on fervidly and hope they send the nation to another historic World Cup competition!