Lady Luck sends Ticos to seventh heaven
A 2-0 win over Australia on Tuesday 19 August in Turku brought Costa Rica level with Nigeria in second place in Group B. Lots were drawn a few minutes after the final whistle to separate the Africans and Central Americans and send one team through to the quarter-finals. The collective Costa Rican prayers resounding around the corridors were answered and the news of qualification met with an explosion of joy. The draw was cruel luck on the valiant Nigerians though, who head for home despite performing admirably at this FIFA U-17 World Championship. The Central Americans counted their blessings after yet again giving it everything on Tuesday evening.
Australia were already out of the competition before the match so had nothing to lose. The Costa Ricans meanwhile had everything to play for: they knew the Nigerian result and were well aware that a win by more than two goals would send them through. A 2-0 win would mean second place in Group B would be decided by the drawing of lots.
The driving rain made conditions very tricky, but Costa Rica were determined to make light of them and force the hand of fate. Striker Gherland McDonald was soon making a nuisance of himself, almost taking advantage of a mistake by Nigel Boogaard, back from suspension after being sent off in the first match. Then he got in behind the Joeys’ defence but lost out in a one-on-one with Aussie keeper Nick Crossley (31’).
Things began to go awry for the Oceania representatives on 39 minutes when Matt Hilton was deservedly given his marching orders for a spectacular rather than dangerous lunge at Crisanto Esquivel.
Esquivel it was who got the Costa Ricans going in a second half in which clear-cut chances came and went at regular intervals. Crossley did well to keep out his shot (48’) and then watched as the impressive Boogaard’s header shaved the post at the other end (51’).
Crossley parried a shot from McDonald (57') and then watched as Pablo Rodriguez's free-kick struck the woodwork (59'). He could do little to stop the ensuing penalty, however, blown for a foul on Alonso Salazar when the enterprising striker cut a swathe inside the penalty area. Pablo Rodriguez wrong-footed Crossley and Costa Rica now had everything to play for (0-1, 61').
The Joeys were managing to get men behind the ball but were powerless to resist the onslaught and the Ticos went two up thanks to the irrepressible Salazar (0-2, 75’). The Costa Ricans were now tied with Nigeria.
The Central Americans continued to push forward despite losing Alonso Salazar to a red card for diving in the 79th minute. Immediately following the dismissal, Jorge Chavez sent the enterprising McDonald through; the striker unleashed a missile only to see Crossley pull off the save (80’). That was to prove the last goalmouth action of the game.
As both sets of players returned to their dressing rooms, the FIFA delegation head in Turku, Fahad Al Raysi (Oman) made the draw in the office of the FIFA general co-ordinator for Turku stadium with the delegates from Nigeria and Costa Rica looking on. The prayers then started up in the neighbouring Costa Rica dressing room
A few minutes later – though it certainly felt like a lot longer – the South American delegates emerged from the office looking understandably pleased, while the misty-eyed Nigerian coach retreated with a good deal of dignity. Telling his players the news was obviously not a job Augustine Eguavoen was relishing on a 38th birthday that had certainly turned sour.
Manuel Urena, the Costa Rica coach remained level-headed after the draw: “We had luck on our side, but I think we deserved it after all the effort the boys have put in.”