Costa Rica in the playoff zone; take off Canada undefeated

SAN JOSÉ (AP) — Costa Rica entered the World Cup playoff zone and in doing so prevented the Canadian leader from formalizing direct qualification, beating him 1-0 on Thursday to take away his record unbeaten.

Celso Borges scored in first-half stoppage time and that was enough to give the hosts victory at the National Stadium, against an opponent who were outnumbered for much of the duel.

The Ticos, who had started the year far from the qualifying positions and who had just named the Colombian Luis Fernando Suárez as their strategist, have continued to add points in their matches this year.

“These players have character and a lot of desire to represent the country, we beat the best team in CONCACAF,” said Suárez.

They reached 19 units, with which they were placed in fourth place, displacing Panama, which on the same day only drew at home against Honduras, the last in the standings. The Costa Rican side would earn with their current venue the right to play a playoff match against a side from Oceania, as a possible way into what would be their third consecutive World Cup.

Costa Rica even has the option of chasing after Mexico or the United States in third place.

The Canadians, Americans and Mexicans currently occupy the top three spots in the tie, who are handing out direct tickets to Qatar.

Sunday, the Ticos visit El Salvador and Tuesday they conclude the draw, in San José against the United States.

With a full house and an atmosphere full of optimism, Costa Rica went in search of a favorable result from the start with a well-organized approach in defense and pressure on the rival’s exit.

“The reception of the people today has been spectacular”, underlined Suárez.

Lateral finishes and corners were the favorite weapons of the locals looking to beat Milan Borjan’s goal, but without too much of a goal.

Before the end of the 15 minutes, Mark Anthony Kaye committed a serious foul on Costa Rican Ronald Marrita, which required a VAR review, but did not result in a card.

At 34, Kaye was caught off guard when he hit outside hitter Johan Venegas with his shoulder. This time, referee Said Martínez didn’t hesitate to show the red card, which left the Canadians with ten men.

The sending off of Kaye motivated the Ticos to attack harder, and they got their goal after Gerson Torres fell from the right sector. His cross found Borges’ header and made it 1-0 when he recovered a minute late in the first half.

The man down was no excuse for the Canadians to seek the equalizer. They had a couple of early second-half finishes with Tajon Buchanan, but Costa Rica responded with a Joel Campbell counterattack that nearly ended in a goal.

Despite the advantage, Costa Rica opted to strengthen defensively and wait for the counterattack, while Canada’s arrivals intensified.

Canada had two clear options for the tie: first with a shot from Buchanan at 72, then another from Jonathan David at 87. In both cases the ball hit the post, fortunately for goalkeeper Keylor Navas and his team.

After enduring those onslaughts, Costa Rica celebrated the win over the tie leader in style.

“If we stay until 2 or 3 a.m. the goal doesn’t go in. This team has had 17 good games without losing and now is the time, it’s football. We had to lose tonight against Costa Rica,” said Canadian coach John Herdman.

The strategist assured that he expected the pressure exerted by the Costa Rican team from the start of the match, carried by his supporters.

“It was what I expected from a home team with the whole country behind, I knew we were going to have that pressure and we had to break it. The expulsion comes at the wrong time,” he said .

The Canadian team closes the octagon with a duel against Jamaica on Sunday in Toronto and a visit to Panama on Wednesday. A draw is enough to qualify for what would be their first World Cup since Mexico 1986.

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