Copa America play-in: Costa Rica battle past Honduras on a night of passion in Texas

March 23 – In front of a packed house of mainly Honduran fans at the Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, Costa Rica beat their Central American rivals 3-1 to take the final slot at this summer’s Copa America to be played in the US.

It was a frantic and entertaining encounter with both sides having opportunities and no shortage of commitment.

In a match that saw a wonder goal from Hondurans, it was the Costa Ricans with two long range strikes of their own within five minutes of each other in the second half that won the day and the summer prize.

It also keeps Costa Rica amongst the region’s leading nations as they rebuild with a younger team and without the legends of their recent past.

Honduras lost on penalties against Mexico in the Nations League which left them with a last chance play-in for the Copa America 2024 against Costa Rica who had lost to Panama.

They came into the match with high expectations and a desire to return to former glories but were without six players would have been automatic starting selections if they had been available. Primary among them was Alberth Elis.

Costa Rica are in a rebuilding phase but the expectation of competing at the top of the Concacaf tier is very much there with a younger team that is bedding in.

Costa Rica lined up 5-3-3 and Honduras 5-2-2 in a frenetic start to the match.

Either side could have had the lead early on but it was Honduras with some specatular individual skill on 9’ who grabbed it.

A ball from the right into Jerry Bengtson in the Costa Rica box saw him touch the ball back with the outside of his boot to an incoming Michaell Chirinos who hammered his shot low from the edge of the box into the left corner of Keylor Navas’ goal.

Costa Rica equalised 3’ later. Jonathon Rougier in the Honduras goal failed to gather a free kick by Jefferson Brenes that fell into the path of an incoming Orlando Galo who hit home – 1-1.

Honduras were living dangerously at the back, giving the ball away too easily when trying to play out, and giving away too many free kicks as they scrambled to defend higher up their half.

On 38’ Navas saved at his near post after a free kick found Rigberto Rivas on the left of the goal who hit his shot first time. In the 42’ minute, with Honduras finding their way back into the game Deybi Flores drove from deep into the box but massed Costa Rican cover kept them safe. A minute later Wesly Decas fired wide.

In a see-saw game the momentum had swung back towards the Hondurans going into half time at 1-1.

The second half continued with Honduras in the ascendancy and Andy Najar dominating on the right coming forward. Chirinos twice fired over.

Honduras were taking better care of the ball in defence

On 53’ a free kick into the Honduran box pinballed around the defence before going out for a corner. It was Cost Rica’s to up the ante.

On 57’ they had the lead. Warren Madrigal on the edge of the box hit a screamer into the underside of the bar which bounced down and in. 2-1 Costa Rica.

Five minutes later they had a third. Brenes, picking up the ball on the edge of the box, saw his shot deflected past Rougier – 3-1.

Celebrating the goal in the corner, the Costa Ricans were greeted by a shower of water bottles thrown by the Honduran supporters.

With Costa Rica going to a five-man back line expertly martialled by Austin FC veteran Julio Cascante and Saprissa’s Pablo Arboine, Honduras brought on Inter Miami midfielder David Ruiz and centre forward Bryan Rochez.

Honduras huffed and puffed but didn’t have enough for a come back.

Costa Rica will head into the Summer Copa America in Group D alongside Brazil, Colombia, and Paraguay. 

Honduras will lick their wounds ahead of their all-important 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign.

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