Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Costa Rica and New Zealand define the last ticket to Qatar

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AL RAYAN, Qatar (AP) — Keylor Navas played a key role in Costa Rica’s survival throughout CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and to reach the intercontinental playoffs.

Although he denied that he was the main architect of his team’s recovery after a weak start in the qualifying octagon, the Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper was decisive with his personality and confidence. Now, he and fellow history mates Brian Ruiz and Celso Borges want to seal their passports to Qatar.

With Navas 100 percent fit, Costa Rica will try to achieve their third consecutive qualification and sixth in history for the World Cup on Tuesday, with Qatar in contention against Oceania champions New Zealand, the last ticket to the 2022 event. Having played in the second World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the New Zealanders are looking to return to a World Cup.

The winner of the match will complete Group E of the World Cup with Spain, Germany and Japan.

References to a Costa Rican team that reached the quarter-finals for the first time in history at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and qualified for Russia four years later, the trio are aiming for a third consecutive World Cup trip, which could be their last. Ruiz, 36, declared it his last tie.

“In everything!”, “100% focused on the game. Bura vida!”, Navas declared in recent news on social media ahead of the clash in Al Rayyan, one of the World Cup’s stadiums. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was not in the Costa Rican squad that recently lost the visit to Panama at the start of the CONCACAF Nations League.

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After a very weak start, sending off demands piled up against Colombian helmsman Luis Fernando Suarez, Costa Rica put the accelerator on the accelerator and could not hold off the Octagon with a fourth-place finish that earned them a playoff berth. Canada, Mexico, and the United States advanced directly through the region.

Suárez highlighted Costa Rica’s collective qualities on Monday.

“If there is a group with the best strategy or the best organization, but it has no soul, it does not want or know to get something for someone, for a country, it is not worth it,” he said. “This group has it.”

From day one, Costa Rica had a savior in Navas. At the start of the tie in Panama, the Real Madrid exporter saved everything and his team took a valuable point. In the second leg in San Jose and Panama were fourth. In the last window of the three games that Costa Rica won, Navas conceded just one goal.

Navas, however, rejects allegations that Costa Rica is solely dependent on its reserves.

“Thank God I was able to help the national team, but I didn’t score goals in the tie, you can’t win games without goals”, he stressed. “We’re all important here.”

Suarez highlighted Costa Rica’s collective ability.

“If there is a group with the best strategy or the best organization, but it has no soul, it does not want or know to get something for someone, for a country, it is not worth it,” he said. “This group has it.”

Ruiz appeared in key moments again, scoring in a 1-0 win over Panama in San Jose, while Borges, 34, and a most-capped player for the Costa Rica national team, netted the winning goal at home. A 1-0 win against Canada put Costa Rica in the playoff zone with two days left.

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New Zealand will play in the new playoff after beating Solomon Islands 5-0 in the Oceania qualifier final. The previous two were in Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018, when they were knocked out by Mexico and Peru respectively.

“It’s our time,” New Zealand manager Danny Hay said.

The Ticos watched their rival’s last practice match these days precisely against Peru, winning it 1-0.

Costa Rica coach Suarez warned that New Zealand are a young and physically strong team.

“I don’t see her being held back,” said the Colombian coach, who qualified Ecuador and Honduras for the 2006 and 2014 World Cups respectively. Against Peru “it was a team that initially proposed, then Peru took possession of the ball, took the ball from them and threw it back.”

“None of us feel like favourites, we’d be wrong if we thought so,” defender Oscar Duarte said. “We will play our game and try to win.”

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