Costa Rica defeated Uruguay 3-1 on Saturday in what has to be the tournament’s most shocking result so far. Many pundits didn't give the Ticos much of a chance when they were put in a group that includes perennial soccer giants Italy, Uruguay and England. The positive result in their first game has made Costa Rica the talk of the World Cup, which is a good thing for CONCACAF.
Saturday’s game began as expected as Uruguay gained the lead in the 24th minute when Edinson Cavani slotted in a penalty kick. La Celeste were the favorites since they reached the semifinals in 2010, while Costa Rica didn’t even qualify for the tournament. With a 1-0 lead at halftime, it looked as though Uruguay would fulfill their destiny.
The script switched in the second half, however, as the Costa Rican attack came alive. Joel Campbell struck first as he powered in a ball that was presented to him by Celso Borges in the 54th minute. In the 57th minute, Oscar Duarte headed in the eventually game winner. Marcos Urena put the game out of reach with six minutes left on the clock.
A play in stoppage time perfectly summarized Uruguay’s night. Maxi Pereira was ejected after kicking Campbell’s legs out from under him. Pereira, like his teammates, was frustrated with the Ticos.
While Uruguay was missing star striker Luis Suarez, the result shouldn’t be downplayed. Prior to this game, Costa Rica had only won three times at the World Cup, with their most recent being against China in 2002. The win was important for the Costa Ricans and CONCACAF as a whole.
CONCACAF, which contains 35 World Cup eligible teams, only gets 3.5 invitations to soccer’s biggest stage. The only other region that gets fewer is the Oceania Football confederation, which gets .5 for 11 teams. The fourth-placed team in CONCACAF must face the first-placed team in Oceania to see who participates in the World Cup. This year, Mexico defeated New Zealand 9-3 in aggregate goals. The fourth-best in CONCACAF easily outclassed the best of Oceania.
If CONCACAF is to get more respect and more berths to the World Cup then upsets like the one we saw on Saturday will have to become more frequent. UEFA (Europe) has 13 slots, CAF (Africa) has 5, AFC (Asia) has 4.5 and CONMEBOL (South America) has 4.5. CONCACAF should at least be given 4 berths.
For this to happen, the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras need to have memorable moments. The play of Costa Rica and Honduras will particularly be important since they are not as established as the US and Mexico.