Concacaf WCQ: Costa Rica defeats Canada — and they’re not done yet

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Don’t stick a fork in them. Costa Rica has been a team on fire, in form and cruising through the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers. A team that got off to an extremely slow start and has climbed up the table — largely unnoticed by others — the Ticos aren’t done yet after handing Canada its first WCQ loss in this cycle.

Costa Rica is one of the older teams in the Octagonal. Led by goalkeeper Keylor Navas, 35, and Johan Venegas, 33, they have a roster with heavy influence by players in their 30s. However, there are some young up and coming players too, including defender Juan Pablo Vargas and 22-year-old striker Anthony Contreras, who got the nod against Canada.

Let’s look back at how Costa Rica got here, and how they beat Canada.

Costa Rica climbs the ladder in Concacaf

Costa Rica has been to five FIFA World Cup tournaments. Their first-ever trip was in 1990, in Italy, immediately punching their ticket to the Round of 16. The Ticos did not make it out of the group stage in 2002 and 2006, and failed to qualify for the South Africa tournament in 2010.

However, in 2014, a new Costa Rica team broke out and impressed in Brazil. Costa Rica made it to the quarterfinals in an undetected manner, winning their group over Uruguay and then taking out Greece in the Round of 16. A loss to the Netherlands took the Ticos out of the tournament, but it was a Cinderella run for a Central American team from Concacaf.

That storybook run ended in 2018, as Costa Rica failed to make it out of their group in Russia. Now, they’re looking to punch their ticket to their third-consecutive World Cup, something that hasn’t happened before in team history, and get back to that 2014 form.

Right now, they’re on a good track to do so.

After a lackluster showing at the Concacaf Gold Cup in 2021, the Ticos fell flat in their opening Octagonal World Cup qualifiers. They drew with Panama and Jamaica, and then lost to Mexico at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, on home soil. In October 2021, they picked up a couple points with a win over El Salvador and a draw against Honduras. However, a loss to the United States still had them toward the bottom of the table.

The tide turned in November and January, though. Brian Ruiz and company picked up a win over Honduras after a loss to Canada. Up they go a couple of spots on the table after the November window. In January, the Ticos exploded, defeating Jamaica and Panama — the two teams they previously drew — and then stunning Mexico with a draw at the Azteca.

All of a sudden, Costa Rica became a threat on the table — especially to Panama.

How did Costa Rica defeat Canada?

It doesn’t get more Concacaf chaotic than what occurred between Costa Rica and Canada on Thursday night.

The Ticos were given a huge advantage after a questionable red card was given to Mark-Anthony Kaye, after he nudged shoulders with Venegas. The Canadian players — rightfully — were furious and now down to 10 men for a solid 60 minutes left in the match.

The Ticos took advantage, too. Another of the Ticos’ more veteran players, 33-year-old Alajuelense central midfielder Celso Borges, scored the game-winning goal in first-half stoppage time. Afterward, Costa Rica and head coach Luis Fernando Suárez decided to park the bus and prevent Canada from scoring. Goalkeeper Navas finished the evening with three saves — but got a lot of assistance from the woodwork.

How will the Ticos close out WCQ?

Costa Rica had a lot of people sticking a fork in them after some lackluster results early on. However, the Ticos have come back and are making noise in World Cup qualifying. While it’s hard to see them jumping over Mexico for the third-place spot — should the United States finish in second — the Ticos certainly going to be the team that finishes fourth.

Panama has the United States, in Orlando, on Sunday. That’s going to be a daunting task for a team who drew with Honduras, a team just playing for pride at this point. Costa Rica, meanwhile, goes to El Salvador, another team that was mathematically eliminated from World Cup contention. While La Selecta could cause a few headaches — and playing in El Salvador is as chaotic as it gets — it’s hard to see the visitors leaving without three points, considering their form.

Here are my predictions for how the Concacaf World Cup Qualifying table will look after Sunday’s matches.

World Cup Qualifying Table | Concacaf | Predictions
  1. Canada — 28 PTS
  2. United States — 25 PTS
  3. Mexico — 25 PTS
  4. Costa Rica — 22 PTS
  5. Panama — 18 PTS

The Ticos will take on La Selecta at 5:05 PM ET. The match will air on Paramount+.



Photo: Costa Rica Federation