• Friday Dec 18, 2009

    2009: Costa Rica carries CONCACAF flag to U-20 World Cup semis

    By Vijay Setlur

    Reaching the semifinals of the Under-20 World Cup doesn't make up for Costa Rica's inability to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa. It might take some of the sting out of it - especially for the future.

    While its senior team fell 30 seconds short of making the World Cup finals next year, Costa Rica's youngsters garnered the soccer world's attention with a run to the final four in Egypt, and signaled the Ticos could be a significant CONCACAF power for years to come.

    A second CONCACAF title run in Trinidad, capped by a 3-0 victory over the United States, continued in Egypt. After escaping group play on goal difference, Costa Rica upset host Egypt 2-0 before a partisan host crowd of 70,000 and then beat the United Arab Emirates in the quarterfinals.

    A semifinal loss to Brazil ended the run, which would provide hope to the Central American nation for the prospects of its national team.

    "I'm very happy with how my team responded - they were compact and tenacious, just as we'd planned," Costa Rican manager Ronald Gonzalez said. "It's a performance that gives us great confidence for the future."

    The loss on penalties to Hungary in the third-place match didn't do anything to dampen the mood of a squad which represents an "excellent new generation of Costa Rican footballers," Gonzalez said.

    Marcos Urena, who led the team with three goals and an assist, Josue Martinez (two goals), Diego Estrada and David Guzman were the keys in helping Los Ticos improve on their first-round exit from the World Cup two years ago in Canada.

    Gonzalez's men advanced while CONCACAF's other three representatives - the United States, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago -- all were eliminated in the group stage.

    Costa Rica's CONCACAF title was its first since 1988, sealed in the final with a pair of goals by Martinez and another by Estada.

    It advanced to the final with one-goal victories over Canada and Mexico - which failed to get out of the group stage and was sent home without a victory - and a draw against Trinidad.

    The United States dominated a first-round group including Honduras, Jamaica and El Salvador, winning twice and outscoring its opponents 5-0. Both the Americans and Costa Rica needed penalties to get past the semifinals after being held to goalless draws.

    The United States prevailed over Trinidad, and Costa Rica outlasted Honduras. While its semifinal appearance assured the United States of a CONCACAF record 12th appearance in the World Cup, the Americans once again failed to claim the confederation crown at the U-20 level.

    It was their first chance at a title since 1996, the last year CONCACAF conducted its finals as a championship at a single venue. Brian Perk was the U.S. hero, recording four shutouts before allowing three goals to Costa Rica in the title match.

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