Five-star starts for Ticos, Mexico
© AFP

Costa Rica and Mexico both opened their 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaigns with 5-0 wins at Cowboys Stadium in Texas, but the nature of the triumphs were in sharp contrast. Costa Rica got the ball rolling early against a clearly overwhelmed Cuba, while five-time champions and holders Mexico had to endure a nervy 55-minute wait against a plucky El Salvador before they finally gave their fans the goal they were waiting for, which led to four more. 

Results
Group A
Costa Rica 5-0 Cuba
Mexico 5-0 El Salvador  

The day replayed - Even without their talismanic Bryan Ruiz in the line-up, Ricardo La Volpe’s youthful Costa Rica ran roughshod over an outgunned and outpaced Cuba in the opening game of the tournament.  The Ticos – three-time FIFA World Cup™ participants – took the contest by the scruff of the neck after only seven minutes through the outstanding Marcos Urena. Alvaro Saborio added another before the break and the wheels came completely off for the Cubans in the second half. Urena grabbed another and Heiner Mora followed up almost immediately to make the deficit virtually insurmountable just two minutes in. Substitute Joel Campbell completed the rout with a stunning curler in the 71st minute.

Throngs of fans filed into the stadium, on the outskirts of Dallas, when defending champions Mexico took to the pitch in the late game, creating a sea of green in the stands.  However, Coach Jose Manuel De La Torre and co didn’t have things all their own way and the colourful supporters had to wait until the second half before their heroes found their way through a blue wall from El Salvador. Finally, the creativity of Giovani dos Santos pried open the door, though, allowing Efrain Juarez to break the deadlock in the 55th minute. The floodgates opened after that and Aldo De Nigris and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez (3) got themselves on a crowded scoresheet.

The number
4 –
The number of times Costa Rica has met – and beaten – Cuba at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.  The five unanswered goals they put past the Cubans also represents the most lopsided opening-day scoreline in the tournament’s history and Cuba’s eighth straight Gold Cup defeat.

Player of the day
Giovani dos Santos (Mexico)
While ‘Chicharito’ may have bagged the tournament’s first hat-trick, dos Santos was Mexico’s best all-around player. The former Barça starlet was a bundle of energy, pace and creativity in the win over El Salvador. Dropping into a playmaker’s role in front of the midfield, dos Santos – playing in his second Gold Cup – showed the kind of panache and verve that made him one of the game’s hottest prospects a few years back. And while he struggles to find his way in the world of club football, he looks back to his old tricks in the green of El Tri, setting up the all-important opener in the face of stiff Salvadoran resistance.

Goal of the day
Costa Rica-Cuba, Marcos Urena (7’)
Although the Ticos would go on to grab no fewer than five goals, their first against Cuba, after only seven minutes, was the pick of the bunch. The Cubans were already on the back-foot when a classic counter-attack found them at sixes and sevens, the Costa Ricans turning defence into attack with lightning speed. A massive long ball up from the back was controlled brilliantly out left by Christian Bolanos, who laid in a fine low cross that was met by 21-year-old striker Marcos Urena. The former Alajuelense star, now in Russia with FC Kuban Krasnodar, made no mistake after sprinting 50 yards to follow the play. Before being taken off ten minutes into the second half, he managed to double his tally. Cuba had no answer for this free-scoring Tico.

Quote of the day
“It is an important thing when a player scores three goals, but it is part of an overall performance. And let’s not forget that a striker’s job is to score goals,” Mexico coach Jose Manuel De La Torre on Hernandez’s hat-trick.

Up next
Monday 6 June will see the English-speaking island participants join the fray in LA. Reigning Caribbean champions Jamaica, led by USA-based striker Dane Richards, take on minnows Grenada at the Home Depot Center. Gold Cup runners-up from 1991, Honduras, will look to shake off a disappointing outing at the last FIFA World Cup in South Africa when they open their account against fellow Central American hopefuls Guatemala.

Have your say
Mexico or Costa Rica? Which of opening-day’s heavy winners do you think has the best chance of taking top spot in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A.