Friday 27 May 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, San José, Costa Rica
Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela
Video Highlights of Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 27 May 2016 (YouTube)
First Half Provides Rare Light Despite Loss
Despite a positive start that saw them take the lead, a strong Venezuela line-up suffered their first defeat under Rafael Dudamel.
In what was his third game in charge, the new manager was able to give minutes to Tomás Rincón and Salomón Rondón for the first time. These two men, the most high-profile pair of the current crop, started alongside other top players who had already received varying amounts of game-time in the new era, such as Juanpi, Rómulo Otero and Josef Martínez. Also given a chance from the off were Rolf Feltscher at left-back, who was making his first international appearance for three years and goalkeeper José Contreras, who had an opportunity to bolster his claim for the No.1 shirt.
The match began at a very promising pace with both sides stretching opposition defences, putting in a number of crosses as well as winning a similar amount of corners. Most of these balls into each box caused nerves rather than actual saves, though one exception was Otero’s 11th-minute ball that centre-back Wilker Ángel met with a strong header, albeit one that went straight at goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton.
Alas, in the opening 25 minutes there were more jitters generated than shots on goal. For example, in the 19th minute, a Costa Rican corner was knocked down awkwardly by a Venezuelan defender, causing a ricochet and then a collision between outfield player and goalkeeper as, after the ball was frantically cleared, Contreras was left momentarily down for the count. A few minutes later, Rincón broke up an attack in midfield and charged forward, supplying Otero on the left who put in a low ball that eventually fell to Martínez, who managed to turn but had his shot blocked. Shortly afterwards, a mix-up between Pemberton and a defender 35 yards from goal briefly gifted the ball to Rondón, but the West Bromwich Albion striker was unable to adjust his feet and positioning in time to capitalise on the error.
A moment of greater substance occurred not long afterwards when, in the 28th minute, a Costa Rican cross from the right was greeted by the left foot of Ronald Matarrita, whose wicked diagonal volley went just wide of the far post.
A minute later the hosts nearly made some headway when a through-ball was only narrowly cut out. However, just as they thought they were gaining momentum, they fell behind. Indeed, in a rapid turnaround, in the 29th minute Contreras rolled the ball out to Rincón, who passed short to Juanpi near the halfway mark. Seemingly with his next move already plotted in his head, the Málaga youngster turned and coolly slid the ball between the centre-backs to Martínez, who quickly squared the ball to Rondón to knock home from the edge of the area. It was a fine team goal, a rare direct team move and provides much optimism that future games will feature more of this creative, cutting attack play.
Eight minutes later, the lead was close to being doubled as an attack up the inside-left came infield, with the ball eventually slid through to Juanpi who turned and swerved a low shot just wide of the far post. Alas, it was to be the hosts who got the second goal of the game and, just like the first, it came from a West Brom player.
Also not entirely dissimilar from the first, it took many in the ground by surprise. Indeed, being at least 35 yards out, right-back Cristian Gamboa seemed a little ambitious to be sizing up for a strike at goal. However, his low, skimming shot somehow managed to find its way past Contreras, who appeared to have ample time to manoeuvre himself over to keep the ball out. Yet again, a Venezuelan goalkeeper struggles to confidently seize his opportunity between the posts.
The hosts could have actually gone into the break ahead as, on the stroke of half time, they were denied a legitimate goal. A fine diagonal long ball by Cristian Bolaños was controlled and knocked over Contreras to be headed in but – incorrectly – the offside flag was raised.
However, they were not to be denied for too long. Four minutes after the restart, substitute Ariel Rodríguez gained some space from Vizcarrondo on the left edge of the area. Facing away from goal he then hooked a fine strike that seemed to float over Contreras and into the top corner.
Venezuela were thus back in a familiar position. However, just before the hour-mark they really should have been on equal terms. Indeed, Juanpi again played a fine direct through-ball to Martinez who this time dinked it over Pemberton and into the back of the net. Yet, despite being at least level with the last defender, the linesman perhaps got him confused with the nearby Rondón and raised his flag for offside.
For the remainder of the game, neither side created much of note as the game gradually petered out, with the excessive number of substitutes inevitably taking their toll on proceedings.
Nevertheless, when the final whistle blew, though disappointed by the outcome, the first-half performance gave many Venezuelans considerable reasons to feel encouraged by the new era. They had played at a tempo rarely seen in the past couple of years and, especially due to the inclusion of Juanpi and Otero, displayed a variety of attacking options not often at their disposal. Ultimately undone by a goalkeeping error and a fine golazo, the defence should not feel too downhearted by their performance as they again put in a relatively solid shift.
Ultimately, while one should try not to read too much into these three friendlies, the signs have been quietly encouraging. Win away to Guatemala on Wednesday (1 June) and expectations will be raised that La Vinotinto will actually be able to make a fist of qualifying out of Copa América Group C.
Costa Rica (5-1-3-1): P. Pemberton (L. Moreira, 46′); C. Gamboa, K. Watson, Ó. Duarte (F. Calvo, 51′), J. Acosta, R. Matarrita; C. Borges (Y, Tejeda, 63′); J. Campbell, B. Ruiz, C. Bolaños (J. Venegas, 60′); Á. Saborío (A. Rodríguez, 46′).
Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras; A. González (V. García, 53′), W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo (S. Velázquez, 77′), R. Feltscher (M. Villanueva, 77′); Juanpi, A. Figuera (C. Santos, 74′), T. Rincón, R. Otero (A. Guerra, 53′); J. Martínez & S. Rondón.