New York City FC standout Ronald Matarrita (pictured) could receive a call-up to Costa Rica for the 2017 Central American Cup. (Photo: Victor Straffon/Straffon Images)
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Costa Rica will be aiming for a third straight Central American Cup title early next year, when the 14th edition is contested in Panama.
As a result of Tuesday’s draw in host nation Panama, the Ticos will kick off play in three-team Group B on January 13 against Guatemala – a rematch of the 2014 final. Four days later, they will meet El Salvador. Both games will be at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
The semifinalists will qualify directly to the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, while the fifth-place team will face the fifth-place team from the 2016/17 Caribbean Cup to determine the last berth.
For head coach Oscar Ramirez, it’s important that Costa Rica remains as the region’s top team.
"This first round is going to be a very difficult,” said the former Alajuelense manager. ”We’re going to face very complicated opponents. Then, there’s always that spice of Central American rivals to beat us and we will go to defend the crown.”
Just months after Costa Rica famously reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it captured a record eight Central American championship with a 2-1 win over Guatemala in the tournament’s decider. Those achievements helped to increase expectations at home.
"After Brazil 2014, Costa Rica earned respect and admiration that must continue,” Ramirez stressed. “We have also historically been key players in these tournaments, so passing through the first round well and winning this competition will be very important for us at the local level.”
With the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup starting next month and continuing for a year, plus the prospect of competing in another CONCACAF Gold Cup, heavy demands will be placed on the Costa Rican roster over the next year.
In anticipation of that hectic schedule, Ramirez has taken steps to expand his player pool. For the Central American Cup, he may have to rely on domestic-league, Canada, U.S. and Scandanavia-based squad members.
"I wanted to see different guys who knew my view, playing style and what we are planning inside the field…seeing how they behave and make decisions,” finished Ramirez. “The minicamps give me a light on who can and who cannot serve in this tournament.”
Costa Rica has finished either first or second in 12 of 13 all-time Central American Cup competitions.