SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Costa Rica has been one of the big surprises of the CONCACAF hexagonal.
The Ticos find themselves in second place in World Cup qualifying with a 2-2-1 record and eight points, ahead of Mexico by goal difference. Both teams trail the leader, the United States (3-1-1, 10 pts.), but midfielder Christian Bolanos felt his teammates should not be patting themselves on the back -- yet.
"As they say, the parties have to play and we will leave to play with a winning mentality," he said. "The team is highly motivated and has a lot of confidence, but we must be clear that we have not won anything. We have not qualified for the [World Cup], so every game we go out looking to win the three points."
The Costa Ricans host fifth-place Panama (1-3-1, 6 pts.) in San Jose on Tuesday night. They tied Los Canaleros in their first very hexagonal encounter, 2-2, in February.
Midfielder Michael Barrantes remembered what transpired in that first meeting. The Panamanians grabbed a two-goal advantage and the Ticos were forced to rally with two late goals to walk out of the Estadio Rommel Fernandez with a precious road point.
"We do not want to happen again what happened to us in Panama," Barrantes said. "We gave away 20 minutes and had almost lost the game. The team had a very good attitude and…got at least a draw."
Costa Rica's last World Cup appearance was in 2006, coming close to reaching South Africa 2010, finishing fourth in the hexagonal before losing to Uruguay in a home-and-home playoff. They are trying to book a spot in their fourth World Cup, playing in the 1990 and 2002 competitions as well.
"We need to win, because these three points us closer to the dream of returning to participate in a World Cup," Barrantes said.
The Ticos enter the game riding a three-game unbeaten streak in qualifying, conceding no goals over that stretch.