After CU20 relief, Costa Rica looks ahead
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Costa Rica players (pictured) celebrate after drawing with Panama in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship to qualify for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup on March 3, 2017, in San Jose, Costa Rica. (Photo: Straffon Images)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- They nearly didn’t book a ticket, but since the trip to Korea Republic for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup is assured, Costa Rica will not take it for granted.

Needing at least a draw against Panama on Friday to qualify, things looked fairly comfortable after Randall Leal scored in the ninth minute to give the Costa Ricans a 1-0 lead and some breathing room.

When Panama knotted the game in the 57th minute and was pressing hard for a winner, it was very much a nervous final few minutes for the 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship’s host

“We had to focus on what we had to do to get to the World Cup.  Even though we aren’t satisfied, we did what we had to getting the result needed for our advancement,” said forward Jimmy Marin.  “In the next two months, we will assess the situation and what was wrong in order to get better and have a great appearance in the World Cup.”

From losing the opener to El Salvador, before rallying to win its next two against Trinidad & Tobago and Bermuda, the first round was no walk in the park for Costa Rica as it finished second in Group C.

The Ticos then opened classification-stage play with a 2-1 loss to Honduras and edged across the line against Panama.

The trials and tribulations ultimately ended with the main objective achieved: qualifying for the U-20 World Cup for the first time since 2011.  Adversity provided lessons to be learned going forward.

“We had no tranquility, nor a way to manage the games.  It was difficult throughout our matches and the issues we had within our team,” said head coach Marcelo Herrera.  “But we were always in charge of the ball, always played the best we could, but we cannot forget that our team is made up of 18-19 year olds, and I will defend their efforts until the end.”