Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — It’s been almost six months, but some animosity still remains.
The U.S. Men’s National Team beat Costa Rica, 1-0, back in March in a memorable World Cup qualifier in Denver, but some lingering resentment remains from the Costa Rican Federation, and Costa Rican fans, over the match not being halted due to that night’s blizzard-like conditions. That might explain some of the Ticos’ gamesmanship ahead of Friday’s rematch at Estadio Nacional, including forcing the Americans to go through a public part of the airport on Tuesday night, not helping them find a training site and not providing the team with game balls for Wednesday’s training session (the U.S. trained with its own balls).
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann understands why that frustration exists but he made it clear before Wednesday’s practice that the focus for his side lies on Friday’s World Cup qualifier and all that is at stake for the two nations.
“That was not our fault. I didn’t call God to give us some snow,” said Klinsmann of the match played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “It was difficult for both teams to play that game but I think you have now a situation, Costa Rica (with) 11 points, close to the World Cup, we have 13 points, close to the World Cup. We both want to get there and I think it’s going to be exciting.”
The two teams may be close to one another in the Hexagonal standings, but the U.S. has had Costa Rica’s number as of late. Aside from beating the Ticos in March, the Americans also defeated Costa Rica, 1-0, in a Gold Cup group stage match back in July.
Still, Klinsmann is anticipating another tough game on Friday as the Ticos attempt to move one step closer to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“We’ve played now a few times over the last two years and it’s a wonderful team. It’s a team with very, very good individual players,” said Klinsmann. “You look at Bryan Ruiz, you look at (Alvaro) Saborio that we know very well obviously in the United States, you look at (Bryan) Oviedo, you look at (Celso) Borges, you look at (Junior) Diaz that plays overseas, (Michael) Barrantes. It’s a team full of talent, a lot of talent and that’s why we have a lot of respect for this team.
“But I also think that we have a lot of talent in our group, if you look at Clint Dempsey, or a Landon Donovan or a Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Tim Howard in goal. It’s exciting, it’s exciting for the fans to come to the stadium, it’s exciting for everybody in front of the television to watch this game. We’re looking forward to it.”
The challenge for the U.S. will be a big one. The Americans, who are riding a 12-game winning streak, have never won a World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica. In fact, they have endured their fare share of horrors in San Jose, including a humbling 3-1 defeat at the famed Estadio Saprissa during the 2010 World Cup qualifying cycle.
All in all, Costa Rica is 7-0-1 in qualifiers at home against the U.S. and the Ticos have won the last seven by a combined score of 17-6.
“That shows the strength of Costa Rica,” said Klinsmann. “It shows how strong they are in their own stadium, in their own country, that they give everything they have for their country and it’s impressive, so you’ve got to give a big compliment to them.
“Sooner or later we would love to win a World Cup qualifier here, so we try it on Friday night. We will give everything we have and after the game we will know if it was enough or not.”
If it is enough, the U.S. would essentially have one foot in the door for next summer’s World Cup. Klinsmann, however, made sure to point out that his team is not looking at Friday’s match in that manner.
Instead, they are focused simply on trying to win three points on the road against a familiar foe.
“We’re not thinking of that. We know it’s going to be a difficult game,” said Klinsmann. “Coach (Jorge Luis) Pinto will do everything to prepare his team, we do everything to prepare our team. It’s going to be an exciting game, I think people will watch a very good game, and both teams are getting closer to the World Cup and therefore we’re not thinking about what could happen somewhere else, we’re not thinking about Mexico.
“We only think about the Friday night game and we give everything we have.”