A second half volley from Celso Borges proved to be the game-winning goal on Saturday night in Houston, Texas, as Costa Rica defeated Colombia 3-2 in a surprising result. The loss prevented the Colombians from winning Group A, instead handing the title to the United States on goal differential.
After the United States defeated Paraguay 1-0 earlier on Saturday in Philadelphia, it was guaranteed that they and Colombia would be the two sides advancing from Group A. However, a win or draw by the Colombians would award them the group crown and in all likelihood prevent a quarterfinal meeting with Brazil.
Already eliminated from reaching the knockout rounds, Costa Rica sought to end their Copa America Centenario campaign on a high note after dismal showings versus Paraguay and the United States. The tournament represented a second-straight poor showing in international play from Los Ticos, who were also below-par in the 2015 Gold Cup following their historic run to the quarterfinals at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Manager José Pékerman made wholesale changes to the Colombian starting 11 for the match, leaving big names like Juan Cuadrado, David Ospina and James Rodriguez on the bench. If the resting of star players was an indication that Pékerman was taking Costa Rica lightly, then he got a rude awakening when the Central Americans took the lead in just the second minute of play.
Following in a growing line of spectacular goals scored at the Copa America Centenario, Costa Rica’s Johan Venegas added his contribution to the list with a stunning turn and strike from outside the penalty area that curled past the outstretched frame of goalkeeper Róbinson Zapata. The goal was Costa Rica’s first at the Copa America Centenario and was well-worth the wait for the fans of Los Ticos.
The response from Colombia was immediate though as Frank Fabra scored his first international goal four minutes later to bring Los Cafeteros level. Fabra’s goal came from a darting run into the Costa Rican penalty area by the Boca Juniors man, who momentarily lost control of the ball before regaining possession and hammering past goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton.
Fabra’s next contribution to the match was a less memorable one for the 25 year-old, as he finished into his own net to restore the Costa Rican lead on 34 minutes. It was a dangerous cross into the penalty area from Venegas that set up the Fabra own goal, as the defender accidentally turned the ball just inside the post to make the score 2-1 heading into halftime.
Realizing that his starting lineup was not up to snuff on the night, Pékerman substituted onto the pitch several of the big name Colombians in an effort to try and claim at least a draw to win the group. Rodriguez and Edwin Cardona were summoned in the hope of providing the Colombian attack with a bit more firepower in the second half.
Borges and Costa Rica had other plans though, with the Deportivo de La Coruña midfielder wonderfully volleying past Zapata from a Bryan Oviedo cross to make the score 3-1 to Costa Rica in the 58th minute.
Cuadrado came on eight minutes later in the final roll of the dice from Pékerman, and the Juventus winger was instrumental in Colombia’s second goal. Cuadrado set up Marlos Moreno for his first international goal, a powerful drive past Pemberton, to bring Colombia within touching distance on 73 minutes.
Last-ditch waves of pressure from Colombia were repelled by the Costa Rican defense though, as Los Ticos scored a famous win.
The result meant Colombia would have to settle for second-place in Group A, with a quarterfinal match against the Group B winner awaiting them on Friday in New Jersey.