It’s officially all over. After five weeks of living on the brink of qualification and elimination, the World Cup dreams of the Ticos ended in nightmarish fashion Wednesday night, as Costa Rica lost the two-game series to Uruguay by an aggregate score of 2-1.
Fittingly, the final game of the Ticos World Cup qualifying run followed the up and-down, hope lost – hope found formula that characterized the team throughout the 10-game CONCACAF qualifying round and the subsequent two-game playoff with Uruguay.
Needing a win to qualify for the World Cup, Costa Rica fell behind in the 70th minute, when Uruguay substitute Sebastian Abreu headed in a cross from six yards out. Sensing victory, the crowd at Montevideo began to celebrate their eventual World Cup berth. And then the Ticos answered.
In the 74th minute, Costa Rican Captain Walter Centeno collected a rebound at the top of the 18-yard box and drove a low shot into the corner of the net. Suddenly, the Ticos were alive again, needing only one more goal to qualify for the World Cup. In the 84th minute, they got their chance.
After a ball was flicked on by forward Bryan Ruiz, forward Alvaro Saborio found himself one-on-one with Uruguay defender Diego Lugano. Saborio beat Lugano and carried the ball into the left side of the box with only keeper Nestor Muslera standing in his way. But, as soon as the opportunity presented itself, Saborio struck his left-footed shot wide of the near post, and like so many others that came before it, Costa Rica’s final chance at World Cup qualification went untaken.
The 2009 World Cup qualifying campaign for Costa Rica will forever be remembered for squandered opportunities, capped by Saborio’s miss in the 84th minute of Wednesday’s game.
The Ticos led the CONCACAF region through August, winning four of their first five games. They then lost three consecutive games to fall to fourth place in October. After beating Trinidad & Tobago, the Ticos jumped back into 3rd in the region, though, in the final minute of the final game of CONCACAF against the U.S., the Ticos gave up a goal in the 94th minute, squandering the win and leaving them with a 2-2 tie. Had they held on for an additional 30 seconds, they would have earned an automatic bid to the World Cup.
Instead, they finished fourth in CONCACAF and were forced to play Uruguay for the final World Cup berth from the North and South American region. After losing at home last Saturday 1-0, the Ticos had to win Wednesday night to advance.
In similar fashion to the U.S. tie, when Costa Rica needed a win to advance to the World Cup, they mustered only a disappointing tie, even while they had the opportunities to win.
Uruguay assumes the final spot in the 32-team 2010 World Cup that begins in June in South Africa.