Sports Mole previews Sunday’s World Cup Qualifying – North Central America clash between El Salvador and Costa Rica, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
La Selecta are no longer in contention to make the finals following a 1-1 draw against Jamaica on Thursday, while Los Ticos hung on to defeat Canada 1-0, as they sit three points back of a guaranteed place in Qatar.
Coming into the final window of qualifying, the Salvadorans knew that sneaking into a top-four position would be a stretch, and unfortunately for Hugo Perez and his side, they failed to take care of business against The Reggae Boyz.
When this group look back and evaluate their play in the Octagon, it will be disappointing knowing that they let a number of early leads slip away, squandering seven points from winning positions, which could have kept them in the hunt for a place in the World Cup.
Their results have been mixed, but perhaps the encouraging sign is that these players have shown that they can compete with teams in this region, losing three matches in this qualifying round by a single goal and collecting three clean sheets in their first four games.
As they continue to grow this program, another positive step forward would be for them to find a way past Los Ticos this weekend, a side that they have not been able to beat since a 1-0 triumph in a World Cup qualifier for the 2010 finals.
Generating consistent offence will be a point of emphasis for this group, having scored a goal or fewer in all but one of their previous 17 matches played across all competitions.
Defending may still be one of their strong suits, but they tend to drop rather deep into their own end of the field when leading, which invites a lot of pressure into their penalty area, and opposing sides have eventually been able to find those open spaces to punish them.
Whatever Luis Fernando Suarez said to his group midway into this qualifying campaign has resonated in a big way, as the Costa Ricans are one of the hottest teams in CONCACAF at the moment.
Los Ticos capitalised on an opportunity late in the opening half to take a 1-0 lead against Canada, and some desperate defending combined with a little luck enabled them to maintain that narrow advantage.
If you had only seen the second half of that encounter, it might have been tough to notice that the Costa Ricans did have a man advantage when Mark-Anthony Kaye was dismissed in the 34th minute, although the Central Americans sustained relentless Canadian pressure in half number two.
From a side that looked dead and buried in its first seven games in the Octagon, their fate for World Cup survival is now in their hands, as they lead Panama by a single point for a berth in the inter-confederation playoffs.
They come into this encounter unbeaten in five successive fixtures, conceding only once to the Salvadorans in their last three encounters against them.
La Tricolor may not play as aggressively as we have seen in previous years, however they do show a ton of patience to pick the right moments to counter, while doing a good job defending in their own third of the field.
El Salvador World Cup Qualifying – North Central America form:
El Salvador form (all competitions):
Costa Rica World Cup Qualifying – North Central America form:
Eriq Zavaleta notched his second-ever goal for La Selecta, heading home the corner kick delivery from Eric Calvillo on Thursday, although that strike was cancelled out in the second half when Andre Gray equalised for Jamaica in the 72nd minute.
Darwin Ceren has a chance to become the most-capped player in the history of El Salvador should he see the field this weekend.
The most experienced Costa Rican player, Celso Borges, was also the hero in their last game, as his header was enough to give his side three valuable points against the Canadians as he moved into a tie with Juan Ulloa for fifth in all-time goals for his country, with 27 strikes, one fewer than current captain Bryan Ruiz.
Keylor Navas has picked up four successive clean sheets in qualifying, stopping all three Canadian shots that were fired his way.
Despite their strong form heading into their match with Canada, Suarez still made several changes to his starting 11, inserting Keysher Fuller and Ronald Matarrita at the back, placing Orlando Galo in midfield and providing some support upfront for Joel Campbell with Anthony Contreras and Johan Venegas featuring alongside him.
El Salvador possible starting lineup:
Gonzalez; Larin, Gomez, Lemus, Saravia; Calvillo, Martinez, Ceren, Rivas; A. Roldan, Bonilla
Costa Rica possible starting lineup:
Navas; Oviedo, Calvo, Vargas, Matarrita; Ruiz, Borges, Tejeda; Campbell, Ortiz, Venegas
We say: El Salvador 0-1 Costa Rica
For these defensive-minded sides to put up three goals between them in their previous encounter was a rarity, as they both tend to play rather cagey without taking too many risks.
With that being said, momentum is on the side of the Costa Ricans, who look determined to get back to the World Cup, and we expect that desperation, along with the goalkeeping of Keylor Navas, to earn them three points in this match.
Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting over 1.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Over 1.5:data
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