Costa Rica continued its rich vein of form to top Group A in the Copa Digicel last night, with its 100% record intact after a comfortable 3-1 win against Guatemala.
The victory not only issues a declaration to all other competing teams from the defending champions, but it also ensures that the team successfully qualifies once again for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Guatemala started the brighter of the two sides and used the age old adage of attack being the best form of defense, with nippy striker Gonzales looking most likely to break the deadlock for Guatemala.
However, a rush of blood to the head by defender Carlos Gallardo after 25 minutes, changed the course of the game when his rash challenge on Costa Rica’s Pablo Herrera inside the box, forced referee Marco Rodriguez to award the penalty and reduce Guatemala to 10 men. Andy Furtado, the leading scorer for Costa Rica, took the responsibility of the spot kick, but to the relief of Luis Molina, blasted his effort high and wide of the mark.
The thrill of penalties was not long over when the game had its second penalty awarded only five minutes later, after José Fernández brought down Guatemala’s Selvin Motta, but managed to avoid the fate of Gallardo by not being shown the red card. Guatemala’s Marco Papa took on the responsibility to beat keeper Ricardo Gonzales from 12 yards out, but the Costa Rican custodian rose to the challenge and diverted Papa’s well directed attempt round the post and out to the safety of a corner kick.
Costa Rica seemed to be shocked into life after being handed a lifeline by keeper Gonzales and started to dominate the midfield battle and subsequently the game with its numerical advantage.
On 34 minutes, Costa Rica deservedly opened the scoring when midfielder and playmaker, Álvaro Sánchez, smashed an unstoppable right footed shot from all of 30 yards past a helpless Guatemala goal keeper, Molina.
Guatemala, determined not to allow the ‘ticos’ move easily to the top of Group A and automatic qualification for the semi finals in the Copa Digicel, came out in the second half a fully determined side.
On 52 minutes the sides were level, when Minor Lopez rose like a salmon, hung in the air like Michael Jordan and bulleted his header past a standing ‘tico’ goalkeeper to make it 1 -1.
Pablo Herrera had other ideas about Guatemala causing any upsets and used his expertise on set pieces to a devastating effect when on 58 minutes he restored the ‘ticos’ one goal cushion with a well executed free kick that rested in the back of the net via the right hand post.
Any hope the Guatemalans had of coming back into the game were destroyed two minutes later when it suffered its second expulsion of the match with Carlos Castillo receiving his marching orders for yet another ill timed tackle.
With superior numerical numbers, Costa Rica made easy work of the remaining minutes of the game but made sure of all three points and assured itself of the top spot in Group A when Segura finished off a well worked move on 60 minutes to make the score 3-1.
Guatemala now faces Panama on Tuesday night, with the winner claiming a semi final berth in the Copa Digicel and the loser hoping to qualify for the CONCACAF Gold Cup through a hard 5/6th placed play-off game which is yet to be decided.