Costa Rica, Joel Campbell and the lost cause

Cristian Gamboa plays a one-two with teammate Christian Bolaños nine minutes into the second half in Fortaleza. Costa Rica trail Uruguay 1-0 but have gradually being gaining the upper-hand, with centre-half Óscar Duarte having just gone close when left unmarked at the far post from a free kick. Bolaños’ return ball is rushed and slightly overhit. It’s heading for the corner flag. Another of the mundane incidences of error to be expected in a game played at high a tempo as this one. Gamboa, an overlapping full-back, might be advised to let it run out of play lest he be caught out of position on a subsequent break. But he goes for it anyway, hooking his right foot at the ball as it hugs the touchline just short of the corner quadrant. Such last-ditch crosses usually end up being skewed off over the end line or land too close to the goalkeeper but Gamboa makes clean contact and gets real pace on it. The ball drops back around the penalty spot. Celso Borges mistimes his run but he has inadvertently sold two Uruguayan defenders a dummy and behind him Joel Campbell has the time to take the ball down and rifle a peach of a shot past a static Fernando Muslera. It’s a great finish but it is the unexpectedness of the chance that is so stunning.

Coaches of underage teams will be showing Gamboa’s exploit to their charges as an example of why you should never give something up as a lost cause but the true beauty of the action is the way it opened space up and altered the field of play, conjuring something out of nothing. It is usually the fancier, more technical flourishes, the Cruyff and Zidane turns, the back-heels that accomplish this on the field. Rarely do you see the more industrial efforts of a bombing, lunging full-back open the game up like that. It wasn’t a game-changer as such –– the Costa Rican equaliser had been on the cards since the restart –– but it represented a conquest of on-field space that both sucker-punched the Uruguayans and gave an enterprising Costa Rica even more confidence in attack. Neither was it a fluke, any more than Campbell’s perfectly weighted through-ball to substitute Marco Urena (who hadn’t yet had a touch) for the third goal was. Gamboa’s cross went where it was supposed to, where it would have if he had more time to take a touch and send an out-swinger into the box.

I have to admit to being one of those that wrote Costa Rica off beforehand –– largely on the basis of their defensive frailty in last week’s friendly against Ireland, in which, to be fair, they were also very good going forward and they were reduced to ten men for much of it. But it ought not to have been such a shock. Though they had never beaten Uruguay before in eight attempts, Costa Rica were deprived of a place at South Africa 2010 only by a wrongly disallowed goal against a Uruguayan side that later reached the semi-final and which was younger and much better than yesterday’s. I’m not sure what ideological shift (or slippage) has facilitated the wonderful festival of football we are seeing in Brazil but I suspect it may have something to do with its being back in South America for the first time in over three decades. The fact that two highly technical sides set the tone in the opening match also helped. Costa Rica have shown they are clearly well equipped to play their part. England and Italy are unlikely to be as compliant or inept as Uruguay were yesterday but Los Ticos will give both a game.

Posted by Oliver Farry

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