El Tri snatches key road win in Qatar 2022 qualifier

Orbelín Pineda takes aim from the penalty spot. The Cruz Azul star sent Costa Rica goalie Keylor Navas the wrong way to score the only goal of the match. (Photo by Jose Campos/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Orbelín Pineda takes aim from the penalty spot. The Cruz Azul star sent Costa Rica goalie Keylor Navas the wrong way to score the only goal of the match. (Photo by Jose Campos/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
El Tri Costa Rica 0-1
This could turn out to be the most important image of the game. Here, Alexis Vega goes down with an ankle injury after a reckless tackle from behind by Costa Rica’s Francisco Calvo. (Photo by Arnoldo Robert/Getty Images) /

Well, 3 points is 3 points, and that’s always a positive. But that goes double when the 3 points comes on the road in a World Cup qualifier.

After a harder-than-it-should-have-been 1-0 win in Costa Rica, El Tri sits atop the Concacaf qualifying table with 6 points, boasting two wins from two games. Panama – Mexico’s next opponent – resides in second place with 4 points after routing Jamaica 3-0.

El Tri had to sweat out the final minutes after settling into a prevent defense that forced the defense back onto its heels. Suddenly, Mexico was scrambling, frantically chasing down Costa Rica chances inside the box. Tico sub Keysher Fuller clanged the crossbar in minute 90+2 and El Tri goalie Memo Ochoa punched out another dangerous cross that floated into his orbit.

The lone goal came from the foot of Orbelín Pineda who coolly slotted home a penalty kick just before the half. The bad news is that Pineda was only on the field because Alexis Vega was taken to the hospital following a nasty tackle from behind in minute 37. Up to that point, the Chivas winger was Mexico’s most dangerous man.

El Tri dominance not rewarded

Mexico exerted considerable control during the first half through its midfield trio of Edson Álvarez, Andrés Guardado and Charlie Rodríguez. Their pressing was a constant headache for the hosts.

Alexis and Charlie were creating space on the left, interchanging passes and pushing forward. And Edson Álvarez steal led to one chance, Alexis filtered a pass toward an onrushing Rogelio Funes Mori that was deflected askance.

Against the run of play, Costa Rica skipper Bryan Ruiz got a clear look at goal in minute 17, but Ochoa parried it aside with ease. Eight minutes later, Guardado forced a turnover that sprang Funes Mori in alone on Keylor Navas, but the Monterrey man scuffed his attempt and a sprawling Navas palmed it out of harm’s way.

In minute 45, Guardado chased a loose ball down into the bottom of the box, flitted around the first man then poked the ball past the second defender. And thwack! The overeager Tico had cracked Guardado in the shin. Ref Ismail Elfath pointed to the spot immediately and Pineda soon did his thing (jaripeo dance included).

The whistle blew shortly thereafter and the Concacaf rivals strolled to their locker rooms. El Tri was in control – 57% possession and 88% pass accuracy – during the first 45 minutes, but should have been up 2-0.

The blown scoring chance would not matter in the end (except as it prompts debate about whether it’s time to give Henry Martín the start up front). El Tri and Ochoa made the lone goal stand up, despite making it harder on themselves by ceding possession.

Costa Rica enjoyed long stretches with the ball as El Tri backed up into its own box, too often opting for long clearances instead of trying to own the ball and play the counter. Still, the defense was effective, allowing 7 shots in the second half but none on goal (of course, there was the late Fuller curler that rattled the cage just after the 90-minute mark).

Mexico only managed one single shot in the second half but continued to chase the Ticos out of their comfort zone, making up for sloppy offense with relentless defense.

El Tri continues its Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign with a visit to Panama on Wednesday.

Next. Henry's late heroics lift El Tri past Jamaica. dark

Notes: Mexico was without coach Gerardo Martino who watched the game from his home in Mexico City following eye surgery to repair a detached retina. “Tata” will not attend the Panama game either. … Pineda’s goal was his sixth with the national team. … Sunday’s match was the third time these two Concacaf rivals met in 2021 and Costa Rica fell to 0-1-2 on the year.