A new year, a new coach and new crop of players didn´t merit new results for the Costa Rican national soccer team on Tuesday night, as the Ticos fell 3-2 against Argentina in an international friendly match in San Juan, Argentina. Despite the result, La Sele, the nickname of the Costa Rican team, can extract some positives from the first match of the year, which will undoubtedly be considered a “rebuilding” year for the team in the wake of the failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2009.
Fielding a team comprised of younger players, several of whom have never played for the national team, the new look Ticos allowed a 79th minute goal to Argentine forward Franco Jara to give Argentina the 3-2 win. Costa Rica had tied the game in the 76th minute on a goal by 20-year old forward Diego Madrigal, and, after falling behind in the 79th minute, failed to take advantage of several opportunities in the final 10 minutes to tie the game.
Argentina entered the game ranked as 8th best team in the world by the FIFA international soccer rankings.
“We demonstrated to our country that there is quality here,” said forward Diego Estrada. “We played … without fear. That is the idea of this team, which is the one coach González has instilled in us. Towards the end we controlled them on their home field and were unlucky not to get the tie.”
This loss for La Sele, unlike some of the crucial defeats of 2009, carries little significance for the team. During the next few months, the Ticos will play several “international friendly” matches that will serve as tune-up games for teams participating in the 2010 World Cup, such as Argentina. Though Costa Rica won´t be vying for a World Cup slot, the upcoming games against Chile, France and Switzerland (all World Cup qualifying teams) will help forge the next crop of Tico national team players.
González, who was the former coach of the under-20 national team, will most likely experiment with a mix of young players and veterans, as he did Tuesday night, to try to find a formula that will lead Costa Rica into a new era.
“The personality of this team fills me with hope,” said Ronald González, who took over as interim head coach in November of last year. “What interests me the most is the competitive growth of some of the younger guys. Starting now, the next stage of Costa Rican soccer has a bright future.”
Aside from the handful of international friendly matches in the upcoming months, the next round of games for La Sele and González will arrive in 2011, when Costa Rica will play qualifying games for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The women´s side
On Thursday, the women´s under-20 team will play in the semifinals of the North and Central American (CONCACAF) championships, being played in Guatemala. The Ticas will play the U.S. women´s U-20 team at 1:30 p.m. (Central/Costa Rican time). The other semifinal game will pair Canada against Mexico at 4:30 p.m.
The two winners will play in the finals on Saturday, and will also earn a spot in the 2010 U-20 Women´s World Cup, to be held in Germany in November. The two losing teams will compete in the third place game on Saturday. The winner of the third place game will also earn a spot in Germany 2010.