Costa Rica’s 2-0 win at Trinidad & Tobago Friday night wasn’t the prettiest game ever. But the important win, void of any style points, gives La Sele an early leg up on its group in the last stage of World Cup Qualifying.
In the 65th minute, Cristian Gamboa streaked past defenders on the right side of the field and flicked a pass over a diving goalkeeper to find teammate Christian Bolaños wide open in front of the net for the game’s first goal. Bolaños later set up Ronald Matarrita on an extra time jail break for the second and final score of the night.
Costa Rica now moves to the head of the Hexagonal – CONCACAF’s six-team round robin that automatically advances the top three to the 2018 World Cup – as it awaits a key game against the United States on Tuesday.
Star goalie Keylor Navas returned for his first competitive match since March after playing in last month’s friendly against Russia. Navas wasn’t called on to make a play until the 68th minute when the Real Madrid keeper made a diving save to prevent the tie.
In the next sequence on offense, Joel Campbell found himself in position to score on a breakaway but left his shot just a tad too far to the right. A few minutes later, a second would-be goal for Costa Rica was negated after an offsides call prevented a Venegas score off a set play.
Coach Óscar Ramírez still seems hesitant to play more promising forwards like Venegas or Ariel Rodríguez over Marco Ureña, who continues to inspire zero confidence. Ureña was subbed out in the 57th minute for Campbell after providing almost no movement or creativity all night. Despite this often inconsistent front, Costa Rica started out strong by controlling the ball and applying good pressure to Trinidad & Tobago’s backline.
The only bad news of the night came in the form of injuries to defender Francisco Calvo and captain Bryan Ruíz.
Already without two of its starting central defenders – Óscar Duarte and Giancarlo González – Costa Rica also did well to close gaps against a speedy attack. The heart of that defense will certainly face a tougher test on Tuesday, as the U.S. feasted on the middle of La Sele’s line in June’s 4-0 blowout in the Copa América.
La Sele will look to give itself an even bigger cushion in the Hexagonal when it returns to San José to take on the United States Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in National Stadium.