Costa Rica heads into the much-anticipated Copa América Centenario tournament on a high note after a 2-1 win over Venezuela at the National Stadium on Friday.
Despite some sloppy play on a rain-drenched field, Costa Rica got a good taste of what it can expect in June’s Copa América.
A 50th-minute beauty of a goal from striker Ariel Rodríguez, who substituted in at the half for veteran Alvaro Saborío, made the difference in the end. But for much of the first half, Costa Rica’s defense got roundly out-hustled by an inspired Venezuelan side. La Vinotinto burnt Costa Rica’s lagging backline in the 29th minute when a pair of forwards including Salomon Rondón broke through, allowing Rondón to put an easy goal past a helpless Patrick Pemberton.
Venezuela continued with the fast offensive pace, tallying three shots on goal in the first half and making coach Óscar Ramírez’s five-man backline look frazzled.
South American teams are known for playing tough and contesting everything, and Costa Rica saw a heavy dose of that grittiness on Friday. When La Sele was getting punched in the mouth and was down a goal, the Costa Ricans looked like they were beginning to clam up.
A player like defender Kendall Waston, who is a bruiser, should relish this type of play. Instead, he looked slow to the ball and was continuously being attacked. Goalie Patrick Pemberton, who was subbed out at halftime for Leonel Moreira, was regularly coming far out of the box, including one ill-advised play in which he tripped over his own teammate some 15 yards in front of the goal.
Eventually, as it always seems to do under Ramírez, La Sele calmed down and responded. In the 40th minute, defender Cristian Gamboa struck in a long-range golazo through a line of defenders to tie the game at 1-1.
Costa Rica then looked like it had scored again when Saborío lofted up a header for Waston. However, Waston was called offsides and the game remained tied at the half.
Ramírez came out with a somewhat surprising lineup, and it’s clear that a few spots are still up for grabs before Costa Rica takes the field against Paraguay on June 4 to begin Copa América group play. In the midfield, Christian Bolaños was named the starter over Yeltsin Tejeda, who’s coming off an injury. At forward, the 34-year-old Saborío got a surprising start over usual starter Marco Ureña and had a scoring opportunity in the second minute off a pass from Joel Campbell, who again played masterfully.
After assisting Gamboa’s golazo, Campbell nearly came back with another assist just minutes later on a long volley, but captain Bryan Ruíz couldn’t get enough leg on the ball to contest the goalie.
Costa Rica will now head to Orlando, Florida, to play an up-and-coming Paraguay squad. The Copa América opener will kick off at 3 p.m. Costa Rican time on Saturday, June 4. The Ticos will continue group play against the United States on June 7 and Colombia on June 11.