Uruguay vs. Costa Rica: 6 Things We Learned
Costa Rica surprised Uruguay, beating the South Americans 3-1 in Fortaleza on Saturday.
The last time Uruguay played a World Cup match in Brazil, La Celeste pulled a stunning comeback known as the Maracanazo. More than 60 years later, Costa Rica manufactured their own version of the Maracanazo against Uruguay—the Castelazo.
It was a sweet revenge for Costa Rica, as Uruguay had eliminated them in the playoff series for South Africa 2010. Not only was it a sweet revenge but one of the sweetest nights in Costa Rican football history.
Here are six things we learned from Group D's opening match.
History Doesn’t Win Games
In every major sport, there will always be teams with glorious pasts that will make any rival take precautions. World football is no exception, and Uruguay are one of those teams with a well-respected history. The South Americans almost looked like wearing the Celeste jerseys was enough to beat the Costa Ricans; they were very wrong.
Jorge Luis Pinto’s words in Friday's press conference were prophetic.
“Football has changed. Today, it is not the jersey that you are wearing that counts. What matters today is the tactical work, player’s maturity, and character, they all have a huge value," the Costa Rica manager said, via MLSSoccer.com in Spanish.
Pinto was right. Uruguay had no football answer for Costa Rica’s brave reaction in the second half and ended up losing. The Ticos didn’t seem afraid of stepping over a two-time world champion at all.
Uruguay’s Flat Offense
Uruguay’s attack was based in four men forming a diamond, with Cristian Rodriguez and Christian Stuani on the wings, Diego Forlan as the second attacker coming from behind and Edinson Cavani on top. In theory, manager Oscar Tabarez had a good arsenal to take on the CONCACAF squad.
The problem was the offense was flat. Both Rodriguez and Stuani failed to dominate the game on their respective wings and produced very few options for Uruguay. Martin Caceres and Maxi Pereira, Uruguay’s full-backs, didn’t help the offensive cause on the wings, as they rarely surprised by adding themselves into the final third of the field.
Forlan is far from being the player he was in South Africa, and if he doesn’t receive the adequate aid from his fellow attackers, his contributions will be reduced to set balls. To make things worse for Uruguay, his lack of commitment to recover the ball forces the midfield to double its efforts to get the possession back.
Some of the Uruguayan fans in the stadium even disapproved of Forlan’s performance, and when the ex-Atletico Madrid player got substituted, the crowd made sure to let him know.
Dominating the Set Pieces
Set pieces have proved to be vital in modern football. On Saturday it was no exception. Both teams got their respective rewards from them, but it was the Central American squad that ended up dominating them.
Uruguay went ahead in the scoreboard with a penalty kick scored by Edinson Cavani. The foul that led to the penalty call came from a free-kick play.
In the first half, Giancarlo Gonzalez had two chances to score via set pieces. The first one went wide by inches after Fernando Muslera got his fingers on Gonzalez's shot. On the second one, the Columbus Crew player wasn’t able to get to the ball in time when Muslera had left the goal wide open.
Uruguay didn’t learn the lesson for the second half and ended up paying. Oscar Duarte dominated the aerial game for the Ticos, forcing Muslera to make a save. However, he couldn’t stop everything, and Duarte scored the second goal with a beautiful diving header after a free-kick cross.
Keylor Navas' Key Saves
Keylor Navas was outstanding for Levante in the 2013-14 La Liga and also had a relevant role in Costa Rica’s historic triumph. He made two critical saves during the game.
When Uruguay were already winning the match and half-time was close, Diego Forlan had the chance to make it 2-0. He made a powerful left-footed strike that got deflected with the net as its destination, but Navas made the save.
Cavani queued up the equalizing second goal for Uruguay with a header. That’s when Navas' performance became more relevant, as he denied Cavani’s attempt.
The only time he got beaten was when Uruguay had a penalty kick in their favor and Cavani struck a clinical shot.
Joel Campbell Was a Nightmare for Uruguay
On top, Costa Rica have a promising skilled striker who made a difference in Fortaleza.
Costa Rica showed two different faces during the game, but forward Joel Campbell was a constant menace for Uruguay’s defense during the 90 minutes.
In the first half, he seemed to have little help from Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos but still managed to create his own chances by taking on defenders and shooting from long range. And when he wasn’t getting the ball up top, he pulled back to the midfield to get the ball. He looked tireless.
Once Costa Rica got the momentum in the second half, Ruiz, Bolanos and Cristian Gamboa manufactured a magnificent play on the right wing that culminated with Campbell blasting a shot into the net to equalize the score.
In the final minutes, he even moved to play as the right midfielder.
The Message from the Bench
Costa Rica were winning 2-1 before Pinto went against making the rule-book substitution and instead sent in another forward, keeping Campbell in the game. Marco Urena was the player whom Pinto sent in, and he killed the game by scoring the third goal.
On the other side, Tabarez waited until he saw his team down on the scoreboard to make substitutions. It was evident that Costa Rica had taken over control of the game in the second half, and Tabarez knew it but didn’t dare to make the substitutions until Duarte scored Costa Rica’s second goal. By then, it was too late.
Luis Suarez looked frustrated on the bench, and such frustration was also reflected on the pitch when Maxi Pereira got a red card in the final minutes of the Castelazo.