Costa Rica and Mexico were the two most successful teams last year, both reaching the World Cup final. The winner of this year’s CONMEBOL group will play the loser of the Decider between Uruguay and Argentina. Both sides have been strengthened by new signings. Mexico have captured the signature of Real Madrid striker Javier Hernandez, while Costa Rica have brought in Real Madrid attacker Jesus Navas. How will they perform?
Mexico and Costa Rica play each other in a traditional Latin American football match, and both nations have a strong team, and a recent Latin American golden generation, and this match is expected to be a very interesting one.
Mexico won another World Cup qualifying match thanks to Oberlin Pineda’s penalty. Arnulfo Franco/AP Photo
On Sunday night, Mexico beat Costa Rica 1-0 in World Cup qualifying, earning El Tri two victories to open the campaign for the first time since 2005.
Despite a tough, physical performance by Los Ticos, Orbelin Pineda’s penalty kick strike late in the first half was enough to earn Mexico three points after a grueling 2-1 triumph against a short-handed Jamaica on Thursday in Mexico City.
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Mexico won despite missing many players from their last encounter, as well as manager Gerardo Martino, to stay atop the CONCACAF qualifying standings after two rounds.
Following surgery to repair a detached retina, Martino remained behind, allowing assistant Jorge Theilen to manage the squad at the Estadio Nacional.
Costa Rica, on the other side, was looking to build on a 0-0 stalemate in Panama in their last encounter. After questioning the use of Mexico’s supremacy in CONCACAF, traditionally one of the worst areas in global football, manager Luis Fernando Suarez enraged many Mexican players.
“I don’t believe what some people claim,” Suarez remarked on Saturday, “that Mexico or the United States have already qualified [in comparison to the others].” “It’s not worth it to be a giant among little people.”
Suarez’s side tried to make life tough for the aforementioned behemoth by using a high press and neutralizing El Tri’s preferred style of play out of the back in the early stages of the match.
Despite a series of mistakes as a consequence of the pressure, Costa Rica was unable to capitalize on any of the opportunities that resulted. Despite the host team’s aggressive attitude, Mexico created the game’s first clear opportunity. Rogelio Funes Mori leapt on an inaccurate ball in the back after 20 minutes and came face to face with Keylor Navas.
The Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper dived to his right after a soft, low shot and stopped the effort. Costa Rica abandoned the press in order to exploit the perceived vulnerability of Julio Cesar Dominguez, a converted central defender who was stepping in for Jorge Sanchez at right back.
Los Ticos focused their defense on rising sensation Alexis Vega. After a strong performance against Jamaica on Thursday, Vega posed a continuous threat to Mexico in the early stages. However, late in the first half, a series of events involving Vega resulted in the game’s lone goal.
Francisco Calvo’s violent tackle in the 38th minute injured Vega’s right ankle on the turf. The Chivas player was quickly replaced by Orbelin Pineda. Vega was spotted on crutches shortly after the play, being taken to a nearby hospital for an official assessment of his injuries.
Pineda would be called upon to take a penalty kick shortly after being introduced, after Bryan Oviedo’s foul on Andres Guardado on the right edge of the 18-yard box.
Guardado flicked the ball past a sprinting Ronald Matarrita, prompting Oviedo to use touch to keep the Real Betis midfielder from racing towards Navas. In the first minute of injury time, Pineda slotted the penalty kick to Navas’ left to score it 1-0.
“It was a nail-biter,” Pineda remarked. “It was tough because we knew they were going to play like this [physically]. Unfortunately, Alexis was injured, but anybody who comes off the bench for this squad is ready to contribute.”
After going ahead on the road, Mexico decided to pause and counterattack, as was typical throughout the Martino era.
In the end, both sides shared possession equally, but Mexico’s defensive unit, led by Edson Alvarez, Nestor Araujo, and Cesar Montes, ensured that the bulk of Costa Rica’s assaults never needed goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s involvement.
The hosts were unable to capitalize on their lone major opportunity of the game in the dying minutes, sealing their fate.
Keysher makes a long throw-in. Fuller bounced about in the box long enough for him to rejoin the game and fire a shot to Ochoa’s right after a fortunate carom. The ball rebounded off the bar and away, forcing a clearing from the Mexican defense.
Soon after, referee Ismail Elfath called the game off, putting Mexico atop the CONCACAF World Cup qualification table after two games and setting up a match in Panama against another unbeaten team.
For the time being, El Tri has the best start in a World Cup qualification campaign in 16 years. After winning its first two games on the way to the 2006 World Cup, Mexico finished in a tie for first place with the United States.
“Our supporters and the media want us to win big, but that’s extremely difficult to do in a qualifying campaign,” Guardado remarked. “We’re going to Panama with humility and tranquility, but if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll have a peaceful journey ahead of us.”