Four years on from reaching the semi finals of the World Cup in South Africa, Uruguay had certainly fallen from grace. In a qualification group without Brazil, they still stumbled across the qualification line, having to go through a playoff tie over two legs against Jordan. Despite their poor couple of years, they did still have the core group of that 2010 World Cup squad, and the same manager in Oscar Tabarez. Costa Rica had finished second in their North American qualification group, benefiting greatly from a dismal Mexican campaign. Costa Rica ordinarily may have had ambitions of sneaking into the knockout rounds, but pitted in the “Group of Death” against Uruguay, Italy and England, their expectations were lowered. Costa Rica were no quitters, though, and were determined to give a good account of themselves in their opening match in Fortaleza.
They certainly did not give a good account of themselves early on though. The only way they appeared to know how to deal with Uruguay’s flair players was to simply kick them off the park. This lead to a seemingly endless string of Uruguay set pieces. Uruguay thought they had taken the lead early on when Atletico Madrid centre back Diego Godin flicked his shot over the Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who stumbled upon rushing out of his goal. Navas’ blushes were saved, however, when the German linesman raised his flag to indicate that Godin was offside.
The Uruguayan onslaught continued, Edinson Cavani coming painstakingly close to giving his side the lead when he found himself in acres of space from a ricochet after a free kick. He hit his shot just over the bar, and put his head in his hands in shame.
Eventually, their pressure paid off. Costa Rica conceded yet another free kick. It was duly whipped into the box, and Uruguay captain Diego Lugano was hauled to the ground by Costa Rican left wing-back Junior Diaz. If the Costa Ricans were considering defending set piece after set piece “a game plan”, then they certainly needed to reconsider their strategy. They were losing virtually every ball in the box. Cavani stepped up to take the penalty and the PSG hitman struck the ball to his right. Despite Keylor Navas guessing the right way, and diving well off his line, but failed to stop the strikers penalty from hitting the back of the net.
Costa Rica simply couldn’t survive playing this negative style of football. Change was needed and change happened. Suddenly it was the North Americans that were being rewarded with set pieces. Costa Rica found time and space around the Uruguayan penalty area from a free kick, but saw their striker under hit the subsequent shot, being tipped wide by ‘keeper Fernando Muslera. They then nearly scored from the following corner, Christian Bolanos
whipping in a deadly cross that was missed by Muslera, who raced out his goal. The attacker at the back post couldn’t match the pace of the ball as it flew straight out for a goal kick.
Keylor Navas had enjoyed a couple of good seasons for Levante in Spain, but his performance in this game against Uruguay may have been the catalyst which convinced Real Madrid to splurge €10 million on him. Diego Forlan tried to lob Navas from the edge of the box, but Navas’ catlike reflexes saw him run backwards, tip the ball over the bar while he ended up in the net. It was a warning sign for Costa Rica, they were finding their way back into the game, but one mistake and it could all be over.
With an hour played, Christian Gamboa chased down a lost cause of a ball into the corner flag. With one touch, he whipped it into the Uruguay box, beyond all the defenders and into the path of Arsenal forward Joel Campbell. Campbell calmly took a touch, picked his spot and fired into the goal. As he reeled away in celebration, beating the Costa Rican badge on his chest in pride, Arsenal fans would have sat their praying that their club could secure a work
permit for the young forward.
Joel Campbell thoroughly deserved his goal. He had not stopped running all game, causing the ageing Diego’s, Lugano and Godin, a great deal of hardship. When he didn’t have the ball at his feet, he was creating huge gaps for his teammates to exploit.
Just three minutes later, Lugano, obviously infuriated at conceding to the “minnows” of the group, threw himself into Campbell in an ugly challenge. The referee whistled for a free kick. Bolanos crossed the ball into the box. The cross was met by centre back Oscar Duarte, swan diving to beat his marker and power the ball beyond Muslera with his head. In the space of three minutes, Uruguay went from winning with relative ease to being a goal behind.
Oscar Tabarez unleashed his substitutes soon after, hoping to spark a reaction. The Uruguayans sorely missed Luis Suarez. He had travelled to Brazil as part of the squad, but after recently undergoing knee surgery, was not deemed ready to feature in this first “easy match”.
Uruguay kept the pressure on, Navas making save after save to keep his nation in the game. With Uruguay getting desperate, they were committing more and more men up the field, knowing that even a point would be acceptable at this stage.
Their cavalier attitude ended up costing them dearly. Campbell played a perfectly timed through ball for the substitute Marco Urena. He found it easy to bypass the defence, completely shattered having chased Campbell’s shadow all game long. Fernando Muslera rushed out to close down the angle, but Urena delicately placed the ball beyond the keeper, watching it trickle slowly into the net. The jubilant Costa Rica players/fans/coaches were in sheer ecstasy, nobody had expected a result of this magnitude.
In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Uruguay right back Maxi Pereira saw red. Diaz took a throw in to Campbell, down near the opposition corner flag. Pereira, evidently unhappy at the prospect of Costa Rica time wasting, swung his leg wildly at Campbell. The swipe was near enough Joel Campbell’s knees, causing him to hit the deck. If there was even a shred of doubt as to the outcome of the decision, Pereira was wearing bright yellow boots which could have been seen from the opposite end of the field. With less than a minute to go, it was a moronic moment from Maxi, which saw him out of the next game, and dropped to the bench for the final group match.
The Uruguayans had fallen from grace from their efforts in South Africa four years previously. They showed flashes of their old selves in the first half, making Costa Rica look like part timers. It was their inability to kill the game off when they were on top which cost them dearly. As soon as Joel Campbell scored, the Uruguayans appeared to lose all
composure, and the second goal left them stunned. It was a remarkable result for Costa Rica, and combined with a win against Italy and the other three “big teams” taking points off each other, they ended up topping the group. The plucky Costa Rican side, spearheaded by the tenacious Joel Campbell, advanced past Greece in the Round of 16, only to be sent home on penalties by the Dutch in the semi finals. Uruguay qualified for the Round of 16, despite this early set back to Costa Rica, but controversy involving striker Luis Suarez saw him miss their knockout tie against Brazil, which ultimately sent the Uruguayans home. Costa Rica toppling the former World Cup winners was the first big shock result of the World Cup in Brazil, the first of quite a few shocks.
Tomorrow’s game: June 15th. Brazil v North Korea. 2010.