South American correspondent Tom Weber continues his day by day coverage of the Copa America.
Costa Rica gave senior debuts to Leonel Moreira in Goal and Francisco Calvo out on field, in their opening match against Colombia. Their squad is one with little experience, their most senior capped player having as few as 13 caps before the game. This is likely the squad they will use for the Olympics next year as the majority of players are under 23. For the Colombians, Falcao started up top with Adrian Ramos of Hertha Berlin, whilst Radamel Falcao’s Porto teammate Fredy Guarin held the centre of the park.
Colombia controlled the opening proceedings of the game, having the lions share of possession and playing keep ball along the back line. Their first real chance came around the 8 minute mark when the ball was switched to Ramos out on the left, near to the half way line. He carried it forward and laid the ball off, he kept moving and found space between the defensive and midfield lines. He got the ball back and turned and ran at the defence, taking a shot from just outside the box. It seemed to take a deflection and went the wrong side of the post, however a goal kick was awarded.
Their next chance came a few minutes later, when a ball in to Falcao was nodded down expertly to the edge of the box. The Colombian volley that followed, was deflected and tipped round the post by Leonel Moreira.
As the match continued, Colombia looked like the only threat and kept pressing for a goal. Ramos won the ball down the left flank and charged forward with frightening pace. Once in the box he cut back inside on to his right, looking to bend one in at the far post. However, Moreira was equal to it between the Costa Rica sticks and sent the ball over for a corner.
The game changing moment came in the 28th minute as the first red card of the tournament was issued. The recipient was the Costa Rican captain Randall Brenes. At first it looked soft but on closer inspection his clumsy challenge on the half way line scraped down Perea’s leg and was deserving of its punishment. After this Abel Aguilar was sacrificed and Wigan striker Hugo Rodallega entered the frame.
The Colombians had another couple of chances before the break; Ramos with a shot from an absurdly acute angle still managed to work the keeper, however Moreira had his angles covered. Then a ball played into the box by Guarin almost caused a catastrophe for the young Costa Rica defence as the ball ricocheted around the box before the keeper dove on the ball to avoid embarrassment. Fortunately there was no Colombian striker in close vicinity.
Eventually the deadlock was broken just before half time. Guarin played a beautifully dinked ball down the centre of the park was latched onto by Ramos again as he ran across the last defender. His first touch took him across the goal but this took the keeper out of play leaving him an open goal to slot into and he duly obliged. The Colombians lead 1-0 at the break and it was well deserved. Costa Rica were limited to attacking on the break but failed to make any real chances.
On the 53rd minute, Falcao plucked the ball out the sky with such ease and then distributed the ball to Rodallega. The Wigan striker carried the ball forward down the left hand side before cutting inside and taking a shot from about 20 yards. The ball was struck wonderfully, low and hard, swerving in towards the bottom corner, but that man Moreira had an answer and parried the ball out of play.
Only a few minutes later Falcao had a great chance to get himself on the score sheet from a set play. The Colombian danger man found himself free in the box from the corner – and we have seen how lethal he can be with his head this season. However, it was not to be his day as his header from the floated corner rattled the frame of the goal before being cleared away by the Costa Rica defence.
Again Colombia were controlling the possession and limiting Costa Rica’s attack to very slight chances. Cesar Elizondo kept popping up all over the attacking line for the losing side and the Colombians were finding him hard to deal with. He was fouled on the edge of the box and another of their promising players, David Guzman, took the free kick. He bent the ball round the wall looking for the bottom left corner of the keepers goal. However, he did not manage to get enough whip on the ball and it crashed into the side netting.
Colombia did not manage to make any other clear cut chances. Rodallega was played in behind the defence but was left to shoot at an acute angle and Moreira again had it covered. Fredy Guarin also spurned a good opportunity from a free kick which he screwed low and wide. It was never testing the keeper. Later there was some lovely skill in the box by Ramos as he flicked the ball over his head and tried to spin in behind the defence. As he waited for the ball to come down to his feet a Costa Rica defender got to the ball and cleared away a chance that could have produced something truly special.
The game then just seemed to trot along until the final whistle. There was no real conviction in anyone’s play, it was as if they had both already accepted the result and were just playing out the remaining minutes. Falcao made way in the 78th minute but his replacement, Soto, had little time to make an impact. The game finished 1-0 though the Colombians could have had more if it wasn’t for Leonel Moreira. He limited the damage for the young side with only 10 men. Colombia will need to improve their finishing if they are to beat the bigger teams. There were some promising signs for Costa Rica and they will need to take these positives and try to get a win in their next game against Bolivia.