Costa Rica booked their place in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing next year by edging out neighbours Nicaragua in the second leg of their home-and-away series at the weekend. And in a much more surprising development, unheralded Puerto Rico became the fourth and final Caribbean qualifier for the second and ultimate round of island qualifiers.
The red-clad Costa Ricans had virtually ended their series against Nicaragua as a contest by picking up a 3-0 win in the first leg on the road in Managua back on 20 October, but still needed to keep from letting their form slip in the decisive return leg at home on Saturday. Any worries of a slip-up were well and truly unnecessary, though, as the UNCAF powers thundered six past the Nicaraguans to bring the aggregate scoreline over two legs to an emphatic 9-0.
Wendy Acosta stepped up to add another to her strike in the first leg at the Estadio Nacional in San Jose, while Kandy Mendoza was the star performer for the Ticas with two well-taken goals on the night.
The result now sees the Costa Ricans as the lone Central American participant at the six-team CONCACAF final round of qualifying for Beijing 2008, where they will meet up with powerhouses the USA, Mexico and Canada.
Viva Puerto Rico
And in one of the big shocks of the preliminary phases, Caribbean outsiders Puerto Rico did themselves proud by winning their Caribbean Group D 'triangular' to reach the second round of island qualifying and inch one step closer to joining Costa Rica and the 'big three' as one of two Caribbean participants in the final round of six.
The Puerto Ricans' first win in the three-team group, against the Caymans on 24 October, not only set them up for a shot at taking top spot, but it was also the first-ever competitive win for a Puerto Rican women's national team.
Las Boricuas then added to their impressive 3-0 opening win with a sensational 1-0 win over heavy favourites Haiti two days later. Angiemar Félix's strike in the third minute was enough to earn Group D laurels for the Puerto Ricans and fan the flames of their Olympic dream.
Puerto Rico now join up with fellow group winners Cuba, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago later in the year at a venue yet to be determined. The second round of Caribbean qualifying will send its top two finishers to complete the lucky six in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for Beijing 2008.