Costa Rica sink New Zealand and qualify for the World Cup

They had the most possessions and the most opportunities. They even had the ball in the back of the net after an instinctive close-range finish from talismanic striker Chris Wood, but referee Abdulla Hassan Mohamed scored for a foul by Matthew Garbett.

The New Zealand All Whites were confident and incisive, but football at elite level is often difficult and unforgiving. Teams win and lose games in the blink of an eye. After just three minutes, veteran striker Joel Campbell, once from Arsenal, timed his run to perfection to connect with a low cross from teenager Jewison Benette and drive the ball home, 1-0.

It was Costa Rica’s first and last attack in the first half. The Ticos had their dream start. They were 87 minutes away from securing the final World Cup ticket. New Zealand remained calm, exploiting the hesitations of the Costa Rican defense to generate danger and a flurry of chances after fifteen minutes. With the goalmouth at his mercy, Alex Grieve should have done better. In the 36th minute, New Zealand claimed a penalty for a push on Wood, but the referee didn’t want it.

At halftime, Costa Rica sounded the changes, bringing in Kendall Waston, 34, and Bryan Ruiz, 36, along with Carlos Martinez. The Ticos are an aging team, but they finished the Concacaf qualifiers with nineteen points in their last seven matches to propel Panama to fourth place. The veterans showed their experience and management of the game after the break. Tenacious, Ruiz gave impetus forward. Space opened up for Costa Rica as New Zealand looked for an equaliser.

This leveler never arrived. Instead, Kosta Barbarouses was sent off for a bad lunge, knocking off Francisco Calvo’s ankle. This time New Zealand couldn’t complain, but with 22 minutes left the All Whites were chasing the game, one goal and one man down. It was tough for the All Whites, a young and tight-knit group who have progressed under coach Danny Hay. They kept fighting, making the penalty kill irrelevant, but after playing one of their best games yet, they found themselves empty-handed.

“The performance was phenomenal,” Hay said in a whirlwind interview, admitting his team lacked the finishing touch. “Obviously it was such a disappointing goal to concede, but the response after that was incredible from the players. We totally dominated the game. We were sensational. Even at ten men we dominate a side that are now going to the World Cup. The way we conceded the goal will hurt for a long time.

As chants of ‘Ticos’ echoed through the stadium, Costa Rica became the 32nd and final World Cup runners-up. The Ticos complete the World Cup roster by finishing in Group E alongside Spain, Germany and Japan. In their opening game on November 23, the Central Americans will face Spain, two days after the World Cup kicked off between Senegal and the Netherlands.

About Matthew Berkey

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