Through "CONCACAF Retro" you will revisit the region's most memorable people, events and crowning achievements.
The Ticos achieve famous 2001 victory
Por Rodrigo A. Calvo Castro
Diario La Nación (Costa Rica)CONCACAF Retro Gallery: Costa Rica, 2001
Few events, if any, have defined the sporting history of Costa Rica more than its legendary Aztecazo against Mexico. It was a game in which head coach Alexandre Guimaraes and players such as Hernan Medford and Rolando Fonseca forever etched their names in the collective memory of an entire nation.
The date was June 16, 2001, and the location was the mythical Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, where the home side had never lost a game against a team from North America, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF).
A coaching staff and a group of players from Costa Rica were eager to break the myth.With a courageous effort and keen footballing quality, the Ticos dealt an extraordinary blow to the CONCACAF powerhouse with a 2-1 win.
"The victory against Mexico in the Estadio Azteca was an historic moment for football in Costa Rica," said Medford, scorer of the 86th minute game-winning goal. "It is something to always remember because it will be recorded in history."
It all happened within the framework of the finest-ever performance by Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier, a result that would eventually propel it to a second-ever berth in a World Cup finals.
"The Aztecazo was one of the most enjoyable moments of my career as a footballer, because it was one of the most pleasing moments for Costa Rican football," continued the now 44-year-old Medford, who is the head coach of the current Guatemalan champion, Xelaju MC."My goals against Sweden (1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy) and Mexico are the most important of my career."
The final standings of the hexagonal round reflected the Ticos' ascendancy, as they finished in first place with 23 points, six ahead of runners-up Mexico and the United States.It marked the first and only time a county in CONCACAF acquired 23 of the 30 points available (Mexico had 18 in 1997, Mexico and the United States 22 in 2005 and United States had 20 in 2009).
Medford stressed: "The goal I scored against Mexico was a special moment for me, after everything was said and spoken.I do not forget the number of journalists that met us at the airport in Mexico. The result confirmed that I was right in what I was saying. Mexico was not playing football; it was a great achievement and that too was ratified."
The Sele, as the national team is called in Costa Rica, had started the hexagonal with two home games(2-2 draw v Honduras, 3-0 win Trinidad & Tobago) and, then, dropped a 1-0 decision at the United States.
Its next opponent, Mexico, led by head coach Enrique Meza, started inconsistently as well.An opening 2-0 loss at the United States was followed by a 4-0 home win over Jamaica and a 1-1 tie at Trinidad & Tobago.
On Matchday 4, Costa Rica faced a daunting trip to the Azteca, where Mexico was deemed a clear favorite for victory.After all, El Tri had never lost to a CONCACAF opponent there before.
Medford, who gained popularity playing in the Mexican league, entered the game as an 80th minute substitute for Paulo Wanchope.Six minutes later, he would score the goal of his life.
Fonseca attempted a shot from the left wing, about 30-yards from goal, that seemed to surprise Oswaldo Sanchez, Mexico's goalkeeper.Sanchez managed to swat the ball down, but Medford rushed in to smash the rebound home from inside the six-yard box.
"I did not think of situation it like that…it was just that things happened that way," commented Medford, describing the strike."I was ready for the rebound even before Fonseca shot and I was right there.
"The goal was just there..."
The goal broke a 1-1 deadlock.Jose Manuel Abundis had given the home side an early 7th minute lead, but Fonseca equalized with a 72nd minute free kick.
"We were losing 1-0, but when we leveled, all my colleagues were motivated a lot," Medford continued."Then Guimaraes made changes.
"I was a substitute and came in for Chope, not because the Mexican defense was worn out, as they said then, it was something that was not planned. The truth is that the team played a great game, especially in the last 30 minutes."
Medford's insertion proved prophetic and his ability to get behind the Mexican defense was decisive.La Nacion, a daily newspaper in Costa Rica, awarded him a "10" rating for his performance, though he was on the pitch for only 10 minutes.
This CONCACAF "classic" was played before only 60,000 fans, lessening somewhat the usual ominous Azteca atmosphere and benefitting the visitors.
Costa Rica went on to win its next four qualifiers, including its first triumph over Honduras (3-2) in the competition since 1961.For the first time, a Central American team managed to win five-consecutive World Cup Qualifying matches.
"In terms of qualifying, this selection was the best in the entire history of football in Costa Rica," Medford said."I will never forget how the Ticos celebrated with the fans who were at the Azteca Stadium and then when they returned to the country.
"And that cannot be forgotten. That was something that was achieved on merit. Nobody gave us anything and we won."
The Ticos qualified for the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, along with Mexico and the United States, the other representatives of CONCACAF at the first world event in Asia.
Costa Rica Roster
GOALKEEPERS:Érick Lonis (Deportivo Saprissa), Álvaro Mesén (LD Alajuelense), Léster Morgan (CS Herediano)
DEFENDERS:Carlos Castro (LD Alajuelense), Pablo Chinchilla (LD Alajuelense), Jervis Drummond (Deportivo Saprissa), Luis Marín (LD Alajuelense), Juan José Rodríguez (AD San Carlos), Harold Wallace (LD Alajuelense), Gilberto Martínez (Deportivo Saprissa), Mauricio Wright (CS Herediano);
MIDFIELDERS: Steven Bryce (LD Alajuelense), Walter Centeno (Deportivo Saprissa), Rodrigo Cordero (CS Herediano), Wílmer López (LD Alajuelense), Mauricio Solís (LD Alajuelense), Daniel Vallejos (CS Herediano)
FORWARDS:Rolando Fonseca (Deportivo Saprissa), Ronald Gómez (OFI Crete/GRE), Hernán Medford (CID Necaxa/MEX), Winston Parks (Udinese Calcio/ITA), William Sunsing (New England Revolution/USA), Paulo César Wanchope (Manchester City FC/ENG)
TD: Alexandre GUIMARAES
16.06.2001: México City, MEXICO; Estadio Azteca (A: 60000)
MEXICO - COSTA RICA 1:2 (1:0)
Jose Manuel ABUNDIS 7' - Rolando FONSECA 72'; Hernan MEDFORD 86'
MEX: Oswaldo Sanchez - Claudio Suarez, Duilio Davino, Marco Antonio Ruiz, Jose Manuel Abundis (67: Daniel Osorno), Pavel Pardo, Joaquin Del Olmo (75: Juan Francisco Palencia),
Luis Hernandez, Salvador Carmona, Miguel Zepeda (52: Cesareo Victorino), Victor Ruiz.Booked: Pardo 26', Davino 61', Carmona 64'
TD: Enrique MEZA
CRC: Erick Lonnis - Luis Marín, Reynaldo Parks, Gilberto Martínez, Jervis Drummond, Carlos Castro (59: Wílliam Sunsing), Rodrigo Cordero (40: Rolando Fonseca), Mauricio Solís, Wílmer López, Steven Bryce, Paulo Wanchope (80: Hernán Medford).Booked: Castro 28', Solis 55', Marin 62', Wanchope 64'
TD: Alexandre GUIMARAES
R: Carlos BATRES (GUA)
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