San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica slips by Venezuela in sloppy soccer match at Saprissa

Neither team played well Saturday night, but Costa Rica´s “Tricolor” were able to pull out a victory in a hard-fought friendly match that, from the outset, was full of animosity.

It was evident even before the game started that it carried very little significance, and that both teams had stacked their starting lineups with players more accustomed to the view from the sidelines.

The crowd – usually a good sign of a game´s importance – was sparse at best. However, that didn´t stop the typical Tico banter from tormenting young and inexperienced Venezuelan players. In addition, neither the game clock nor the scoreboard had been turned on for the match, which ended in another Costa Rican home victory: 1-0.

The game started off at a quick pace, as the second-string Tico lineup moved the ball beautifully across the pitch within the second minute, combining a few sequenced passes along the left flank to set up what appeared to be the most inspired attack either team would have all night – though the shot slipped wide of the mark.

But that rhythm and the flow of the game were soon disrupted by a number of brazen challenges from the Venezuelans, which drew whistles but no cards from the referee. These challenges, and their seemingly malign intent, marred the rest of the game, ending in two red card ejections in the second half – one for each team.

As the first half waned, Costa Rica put together a number of passes, again focused on the left side of the field, culminating in a cross to the back post, which was headed far wide of the opposite post by Andy Herron. Luckily for Costa Rica, Alvaro Saborio was waiting, bouncing the ball off his chest and into the net just before the 40th minute.

The second half was defined by desperate attacks by Venezuela, the two red cards and a yellow – each of which led to both teams converging at the point of the foul to push a few shoulders and open their mouths – and a Costa Rican attack that proved, time and again, uneventful and unable to create decent opportunities.

Still, the Costa Ricans were the dominant side, and came out with a victory and a shutout. The trend at the Ricardo Saprissa Stadium has been more than a little impressive: over the last seven games at home, Costa Rica has outscored opponents 19 to 1 (the only goal they gave up was a penalty kick to the United States).

Currently first in the standings for World Cup qualification in front of the United States and Honduras, Costa Rica will play its next game on July 3 against El Salvador in the Gold Cup. Its next World Cup qualifying match will be played away against Honduras on Sept. 12.

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