By Samindra Kunti in New Jersey
July 4 – Costa Rica ran out 6-4 winners against Martinique to restore calm in their camp and set up a quarter-final with Mexico.
The Central Americans bounced back from a slow start in the tournament with just one point from two matches to outplay the Caribbean island nation with goals by Juan Vargas, Joel Campbell and Anthony Contreras in a 15-minute second-half cameo to ensure qualification for the knockout phase.
Martinique’s elimination means that in a repeat of the 2021 tournament, Jamaica will be the Caribbean’s only representative in the last eight.
Martinique and Guadeloupe, both qualifiers from the preliminary knock-out rounds, could have joined Jamaica in the quarter-finals but they were both knocked out, Les Matino after a dramatic 15 minutes in the second half when they conceded three goals.
Costa Rica and Martinique failed to match the drama of the earlier high-octane encounter between Guatemala and Guadeloupe but what the game lacked in intensity the sides made up for with goals, resulting in a tennis score.
It was Kendall Waston who handed the Ticos a 10th-minute lead with a scrappy goal following a set-piece scramble. There was nothing poetic about Waston’s strike, but his goal somewhat settled Costa Rica’s nerves. The Central Americans have been under pressure throughout the Gold Cup and manager Luis Suarez decided to play with Contreras up front.
They could not enjoy their advantage for long. With delightful skill and tenacity, Patrick Burner held off his marker, cut inside, and curled the ball into the top right corner in the 18th minute to level the scoreline. Burner had proven his worth against El Salvador as well and the Nimes player, often moving across the forward line, kept the Costa Rican defence on their toes.
At the other end, Costa Rica offered next to nothing, but in a new almighty goalmouth scramble Martinique again failed to clear their lines and Francisco Calvo was the last player to touch the ball before it crossed the line in slow motion, 2-1.
After the restart, the wheels came off for Martinique. Within the space of five minutes, the Ticos decided the match with two goals. In the 55th minute, Juan Vargas was left unmarked and headed in Costa Rica’s third before Joel Campbell converted a penalty to make it 4-1.
The rest of the second half was academic, and the result was no longer in jeopardy for Costa Rica. Contreras added to Costa Rica’s tally, 5-1 before Brighton Labeau pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 74th minute and Burner grabbed his second, but there was to be no late push from Martinique. At the other end, Diego Campos tapped in a sixth for the Ticos and still the goals kept coming when substitute Jonathan Mexique got Martinique’s fourth.
The Caribbean team were sent packing, but they can leave the tournament with their heads held high. Costa Rica, meanwhile, complete the quarterfinal line-up and will take on Mexico in Arlington, but Suarez’s eleven will have to improve and shore up in defence to stand a chance.
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