Copa America play-in: Costa Rica battle to stay top tier, Honduras want a seat at that table

March 21 – On Saturday (March 23) Costa Rica will be battling to retain their elite Concacaf status as they compete for one of the two remaining slots at the Copa America 2024 against Honduras at the Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

There are six Concacaf qualifiers Copa America 2024 to be played this summer in the US.

Over the past 10 years you would have expected Costa Rica to be an automatic qualifier, but that is no longer the case.

Having qualified for consecutive World Cups in 2014, 2018 and 2020, the Costa Ricans have been struggling with the changing of an old guard of players with Bryan Ruiz, who prolonged and prolonged his career, so far driving irreplaceable.

Their problem is that in replacing old with new they are not finding the right quality.

Having qualified for the first two Nations League final four editions, they missed out this time round losing to Panama in both legs of the quarter finals in a 6-1 aggregate hammering.

Panama have been pushing at Costa Rica’s door for a while, but this was a flattening of it.

Their squad still retains some of the old names when they were in their pomp, including PSG reserve keeper Keylor Navas and striker Joel Campbell who now plays at Ajajuelense in Costa Rica.

There are also signs that they may have found some younger options up front with 21-year-old Manfred Ugalde who plays at Spartak Moscow and Alvaro Zamora who plays in the Greek leagues with Aris Thessaloniki.

Perhaps the biggest edge they have will is not in who Honduras have available but in who they are missing.

The Hondurans are desperate to return to the top tier of Concacaf competitions and have their sights set on qualifying for the expanded 2026 World Cup.

The Copa America is a big opportunity for Honduras in terms of preparing a competitive team to return to the finals they last appeared at in 2014.

Honduras have about 10 key players that would have been automatic or close to automatic selections missing due to red cards, accumulations of yellow cards and injuries. Arthur Elis and Choco Lozano are huge gaps to fill. For the play-in game they have a squad with 18 of the 23 drawn from the Honduran top tier.

But they are not without bite. The Olimpia stikeforce of Michaell Chirinos and veteran Jerry Bengston can do some damage. They also have played in the Costa Rican league with Saprissa so know what they are up against.

Deybi Floris, who plays in the MLS for Toronto FC, is a rock in midfield while Andy Najar and David Ruiz can be dangerous on the right wing.

Honduras are without doubt a team on the rise and would have been in the Nations League final four if they had held on to their lead in the closing minutes of the quarter final against Mexico, losing on penalties.

These two sides met in the 2021 CNL Third-Place Match in which Honduras won in the penalty shootout 5-4 after a 2-2 draw. They have played each other 64 times, with Costa Rica leading the all-time series 22W-24D-18L.

Qualification for the Copa America 2024 is huge on performance and financial levels. The stakes for both countries don’t get much higher.

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