Costa Rica received a second-half goal from Alvaro Saborio to secure a 2-1 victory over Mexico in the final match of CONCACAF qualifying. It wrapped up a successful run for the Ticos, which had already earned them a berth in the World Cup next summer.
As for Mexico, the result could have eliminated the struggling regional power, but the rival United States bailed it out with a late comeback against Panama. So El Tri will go up against New Zealand in a playoff next month, with a trip to Brazil hanging in the balance.
Since there was so much on the line for Mexico, Tuesday's match turned into an intense back-and-forth battle that lasted from the opening whistle until the final one. Let's examine some of the biggest takeaways from the Costa Rican triumph.
World Cup Hopes on the Rise for Costa Rica
Costa Rica should be quietly building confidence about its chances of emerging as a underdog capable of making it through the group stage. Scoring a 3-1 victory over the United States and then backing it up just over a month later by beating Mexico is impressive.
What makes the Ticos dangerous in a short group format like the World Cup is their ability to defend. They allowed just seven goals, the fewest of any team in the Hex, in 10 matches and have only allowed more than one goal in a match once all year.
Add that to the fact they have a good combination of veteran leadership (Saborio and Bryan Ruiz) and talented youth (Joel Campbell) on the attack, and Costa Rica has the pieces to play the tightly contested matches the World Cup always brings. It just has to hope for a little luck in the draw.
Oribe Peralta's Resurgence Is No Fluke
Peralta is an interesting case. He's been a breakout star for Mexico in recent months but, unlike most players who suddenly rise to the occasion, he's 29. While the forward has been around for awhile, he's seemingly a late bloomer at the international level.
Counting his goal against Costa Rica, he's now scored in four of the past five matches for Mexico. At a time when the attacking was having significant problems generating any type of scoring opportunities, he's done really well to rise to the occasion.
Moving forward, Mexico has no choice but to keep him heavily involved. Peralta has shown a knack for finding space in the final third and has connected on some pinpoint strikes. And his rise has come at a perfect time for El Tri.
Javier Hernandez Needs More Club Playing Time
One thing Hernandez did extremely well for a long time was playing a limited role with Manchester United and then becoming a key cog for Mexico without missing a beat. It's something that's certainly much easier said than done.
It might finally be catching up with him, however. The talented striker continues to make sporadic appearances for United, mostly as a reserve. He hasn't been able to elevate his form during his last couple call ups to the national team, though.
The defending Premier League champions have plenty of depth up front, which makes it tough for him to earn chances. That said, his focus needs to be finding a way to get on the field more at the club level in order to get back on track for Mexico.
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