Costa Rica mounts rally, stuns mighty Uruguay in massive upset

Costa Rica stunned Uruguay 3-1 at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza on Saturday, dealing this young World Cup one of its first shocks. Goals from young starlets Joel Campbell and Oscar Duarte and a capper from sub Marco Urena cancelled out a first-half penalty sunk by Edinson Cavani to deal the South Americans a memorable defeat.

The result was arguably the second biggest upset involving a CONCACAF team in World Cup history: perhaps only the USA’s famous 1950 win over England can surpass it in magnitude. Uruguay were potential title fighters, and are the reigning South American champions. Costa Rica are one of the weaker teams in CONCACAF and had won just three games at this tournament, ever. But the fact that the South Americans were a depleted force coming into the game played a massive role — as did the bravery of this unheralded and gutsy Ticos side.

”We made mistakes today that we haven’t made for a long time. It’s too early to explain this,” Washington Tabarez said after the match. ”Football means that sometimes you have to lose. You can’t lose heart, you just have to improve.”

Uruguay were without star striker Luis Suarez, the Liverpool star still shaking off a nagging knee injury. In his stead stepped the 35-year-old Diego Forlan – the Golden Ball winner of the 2010 edition of the World Cup and a veteran of this tournament since 2002. Forlan still has a sure touch, but he lacks pace – and without Suarez’s invention, Uruguay looked labored and old for much of the first half.

And Costa Rica played it smart: one of the weaker teams in the Cup, they presented Uruguay with a bank of a five and dared them to run at it. For large periods, Edinson Cavani was left isolated, negating his influence. The Ticos were gambling that tyro keeper Keylor Navas could keep out most of their attempts while at the other end, the pace and skill of Arsenal’s Joel Campbell (on loan to Olympiakos) could pinch a goal.

TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

Instead, it was a mistake that broke the game open: Costa Rica’s defenders failed to mark up and Diego Lugano won Uruguay a penalty after 22 minutes when Junior Diaz hauled him to the ground. It looked a soft call at first, but ref Felix Brych was right: the Costa Rican had both hands around Lugano’s midsection, and the Uruguayan was canny enough to make the most of the contact. Cavani calmly stepped up and slammed the penalty home past the despairing Navas to the far corner.

The Ticos had a chance to level matters late in the first half when Christian Bolanos sent in a corner that Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera completely missed, allowing Giancarlo Gonzalez a free sight at the near post on goal. But the defender mistimed his leap and was unable to get a touch to the ball and the chance evaporated. It seemed their cause was hopeless.

But Uruguay started to get a bit more reckless, and the game ground down to walking pace. The omens grew: Duarte had a chance to level matters up in the 50th minute when he headed on a fine free kick from Bolanos, only to see Muslera clear it with a sprawl. He was unable to get set to sink his own rebound.

Then, the floodgates opened. Campbell, left unmarked, scored an absolutely brilliant goal after Uruguay unwisely left him unmarked. Chesting down a delivery from Cristian Gamboa, he took a step and leashed a left-footed shot through Maxi Pereira and into the back of Muslera’s net.

Three minutes later, Duarte finally got his goal. Leaping bravely under the boot of Christian Stuani, he dove at the far post to meet Bolanos’ cross, and tucked the ball in at the far post past a stunned Muslera.

From there, Costa Rica grimly hung on. Navas stopped a pin-point header from Cavani with twenty minutes left to play as Suarez furiously warmed up, hoping to get his knee loose enough to enter the fray. He could not and was forced to watch glumly from the bench.

And as Suarez stared, Urena snapped what had been a three-year goal-scoring drought with a fine finish that knocked the Copa America champs out. Campell fed a superb ball to the sub lurking wide right and he simply slid it over Muslera and into the net. The celebrations it sparked in the stands were wild – and the despair it prompted on the Uruguay bench was very real.

Maxi Pereira was then ejected late for a vicious foul on Campbell. The Uruguayan’s tournament may now be over, facing an automatic one-game ban and possibly further discipline. It was the Cup’s first red card, and it came at the worst possible time for the South Americans.

The game will now enter CONCACAF lore. USA’s 3-2 win over Portugal in 2002, this same Ticos side’s 1-0 upset of Scotland in 1990 that led to a memorable run in Italy.

Uruguay next face England on the 19th in Sao Paulo while Costa Rica have the unwelcome task of playing Italy in Recife the following day. But the Ticos will now believe they can get out of this so very tough group. And Uruguay? They may be staring at the exit.

”We’ve being playing this way for eight years. I don’t see why we should do anything different right know,” Tabarez said after the match. ”It worked in South Africa and after that. Defense is not a dirty word.”

Jorge Luis Pinto, the Costa Rica manager, was less philosophical. ”What counted is that we stayed calm and kept creating opportunities against a very tough team,” Pinto said. ”We have great respect for Uruguay but we weren’t that impressed tonight.”

In an emerging story at this World Cup, the game was played against a backdrop of empty seats. Tickets for the Cup had reportedly been very tight, but as the Cup kicked off, it has become clear that many of the seats have not been sold after all. Why is as yet unknown, but Brazil’s reputation for crime and reports of aggressive price-gouging may have played a role.