SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - For a team that just won a significant competition, Costa Rica did not have the luxury of time to savor its triumph. That's the way it goes on occasion in international football. There is always another game, another tournament and another mountain to climb.
Last Sunday, the Ticos captured the UNCAF Copa Centroamericana - Central America's biennial championship for national teams that also doubled as the region's qualifying tournament for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup - by defeating Honduras 1-0 in the final.
Costa Rica lifted the trophy for a seventh time, extending its own record and more than doubling that of its nearest competitor, Honduras.
Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto expressed satisfaction with his team's performance.
"We had six, seven chances to score, Honduras threatened the goal only once, we should be happy for what was on the field today," the 60-year-old Colombian said after the game. "We searched for the title and we did it with hard work.
"Hopefully, there are many more to come."
Pinto, though, surely realized that the opening match in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying loomed large. The Tricolor will travel to Panama for a February 6 encounter at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
Though the Copa Centroamericana ended on the highest of notes, an equally productive performance to open the last leg on the road to Brazil 2014 is fundamental. Focus must shift quickly to Panama, a team that Costa Rica did not face in the UNCAF event.
"Right now, we are thinking about the World Cup, we all want to go to Brazil, so we work hard every practice to improve and get the points needed to qualify us for the next World Cup," commented New York Red Bulls defender Roy Miller. "It is an important time for everyone and we hope to start on the right foot.
"Panama is a tough team, we know it will be a difficult game, it has very good players with great potential, we'll try to give our all to get the game."
According to FIFA records, Costa Rica and Panama have squared off 10 times in World Cup Qualifying, with the Ticos posting six wins, including the previous three meetings.
To keep the streak going, Pinto called in 22 players to camp, 14 of them based abroad.
Miller, Christian Bolaños, Alvaro Saborio and Michael Umaña are the only members of the current roster that played in the last qualifier between the sides, a 3-1 win by the visiting Costa Ricans on September 3, 2005. Saborio struck for the game's first goal just a minute before the break.
With three of the six teams in the CONCACAF Hexagonal reigning from Central America, this early battle between two of them could set the tone for how the region may perform in future match days.
Costa Rica will hope that the tenor created only a week ago from its win in the Copa Centroamericana final against another Central American power -- Honduras -- carries over harmoniously.
GOALKEEPERS: Keylor Navas (Levante/Spain), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense)
DEFENDERS: José Salvatierra (Alajuelense), Christian Gamboa (Rosenborg/Norway), Michael Umaña (Saprissa), Johnny Acosta (Dorados/Mexico), Giancarlo González (Valerenga/Norway), Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls/USA), Bryan Oviedo (Everton/England), Christopher Meneses (Alajuelense)
MIDFIELDERS: Celso Borges (AIK/Sweden), Osvaldo Rodríguez (Santos), Christian Bolaños (FC Copenhagen/Denmark), Ariel Rodríguez (Pérez Zeledón), Douglas Sequeira (Saprissa), Michael Barrantes (Aalesunds/Norway), Rodney Wallace (Portland Timbers/USA), Bryan Ruiz (Fulham/England)
FORWARDS: Randall Brenes (Cartaginés), Álvaro Saborío (Real Salt Lake/USA), Jairo Arrieta (Columbus Crew/USA), Joel Campbell (Real Betis/Spain)