A single goal is all that separates the sides heading into Wednesday’s second leg in Montevideo after Costa Rica and Uruguay played out a well fought battle in San Jose. It was Uruguay’s captain fantastic Diego Lugano who grabbed the games only goal and gave his team the perfect platform to complete the job on home turf next week.
The spirited encounter saw a total of seven yellow cards dished out by referee Alberto Undiano and he also flashed his red card at Costa Rica’s Randall Azofeifa early in the second half. Credit must be given to Costa Rica for attempting to get back into the game despite being reduced to ten men for such a large chunk of the contest.
For anyone expecting a cagey encounter inside the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa the idea was soon dispelled as both teams forced corners in the first ten minutes and the teams produced some real end to end stuff. With the game being played at a decent tempo the home crowd did their best to give Los Ticos every advantage they could by roaring them on everytime the ball travelled inside Uruguay’s half.
Diego Forlan was everywhere for Uruguay early on as he used his experience to drop deep and link midfield and attack. With many of the Costa Ricans overeager to impress Forlan lent his body in and won a number of freekicks in the middle of the park which disrupted the hosts and regained possession for La Celeste.
Luis Suárez was also making his presence felt for the visitors and he let fly with the game’s first meaningful effort. The early sighter sailed over Keylor Navas’ goal but left Costa Rica with doubt that they would have to stay on their guard to keep the Ajax man out.
For the hosts it was clear that their main source of danger was the combination play between Bryan Ruiz and long serving captain Walter Centeno. A one-two between the pair creating a shooting opportunity for Centeno but his effort was smothered by Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
The game’s only goal came shortly after this initial feeling out period with the encounter was less than 25 minutes old. A darting run by Forlan into the box was well read and the Atlético Madrid man was able to reach a lofted pass. With the angle against him Forlan managed to hook the ball over Navas but could only watch as it agonisingly bounced along the goal-line before being put behind by a defender.
From the resulting corner Lugano rose to powerfully redirect the ball goalward before seeing his effort nodded off the line. The clearance was tossed back into the danger zone from the edge of box and Lugano who had travelled in the direct of his first effort was on hand to break the deadlock as he reconnected with the ball.
With the home crowd silenced Uruguayan coach Oscar Tabarez’s must have been impressed with how his side had adapted so quickly to the synthetic surface in San Jose.
As the first half wore on the visitors seemed able to win the ball back at will from Costa Rica and although Uruguay fashioned few chances they never looked in too much danger themselves. This period of calm for La Celeste came to an end however just before half time.
A flighted ball from the middle of the park by Randall Azofeifa went over the Uruguayan defence and was met by Ruiz on the penalty spot. The FC Twente player’s header looped up above Muslera and, unfortunately for the hosts, the crossbar as well.
Taking this renewed impetus into the second half Costa Rica pushed for an equaliser and had a decent penalty shout turned down. A cross from the left appeared to be handled by both Diego Godin and Sebastian Eguren of Uruguay in their own area but Undiano of Spain was unmoved.
The referee did see fit to take action five minutes later though when Azofeifa swept away the standing leg of Alvaro Fernandez with a late challenge. The official stuck to the letter of the law and gave the Costa Rican his second yellow card of the evening. Los Ticos will view the sending off as a touch harsh and it certainly did the game no favours as a spectacle.
Being a goal and a man up Uruguay seemed content to pack up what they had and get back to Montevideo as soon as possible. For their part Costa Rica huffed and puffed but produced little to worry Muslera. One bright spark was the introduction of Rolando Fonseca who added a little quality down the right flank.
Despite seeming to lose interest in the match Uruguay will feel slightly aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty late on when Sebastian Fernandez’s goalbound header appeared to handled by Junior Diaz.
Next Wednesday sees both sides go at it again, this time in front of a bumper 70,000 crowd of widely expectant Uruguayans in Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario. The hosts already have one foot inside South Africa but will be taking nothing for granted when they play a Costa Rican side with nothing to lose.
Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com
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