Costa Rica earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over 10-man New Zealand to become the final team to book its place in the finals of the FIFA World Cup on Tuesday. Joel Campbell struck the match-defining goal in the third minute in the inter-confederation playoffs here at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
After a fast start, Costa Rica broke up the field on the left, where Jewison Bennette played a cutback for Joel Campbell to turn the ball into the bottom corner of the goal.
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Surprisingly, it was just one-way traffic from there on with the All Whites camping themselves in Costa Rica’s half of the pitch. They were sharper and quicker in possession and used Chris Wood’s 6’3” frame up front to cause problems. NZ put up a spirited show and had a goal disallowed from Wood before having a man sent off in the second half.
Alex Greive and Matthew Garbett squandered excellent opportunities in succession from Wood’s knockdowns inside the box. In the 39 minute, the Newcastle United striker struck the ball into the roof of the net but VAR ruled out the goal after spotting a foul in the build-up.
After the half-time break, Costa Rica coach Luis Suarez sought to change things up with three substitutions, including that of veteran Bryan Ruiz to help make better use of the ball in possession.
NZ coach Danny Hay made his own changes but substitute Kosta Barbarouses was sent off within nine minutes of coming on. The attacker wiped out Francisco Calvo from behind and received his marching orders after a VAR check.
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Despite the numerical disadvantage, NZ continued to dictate play but didn’t muster clear-cut chances at goal. Wood forced an easy save from Navas before the ‘keeper was stretched by a curling effort by Clayton Lewis from distance.
Costa Rica continued to defend in numbers against NZ’s onslaught and breathed a sigh of relief as the referee blew the final whistle. Los Ticos have now made it to their third straight World Cup finals.
(The writer is in Qatar at the invitation of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy)