Los Cafeteros missed numerous wasted chances, as they were made to settle for a narrow 1-0 win courtesy of Adrian Ramos' goal on the stroke of half time in Group A.
An edgy start from the 2001 Copa America champion saw it thwarted by debutant goalkeeper Leonel Moreira on various occasions in the first half as Costa Rica withstood the barrage of attacks. A difficult prospect of a match turned into a near-impossible one for the experimental Los Ticos side as Randall Brenes was shown a straight red for a dangerous tackle.
"It was clear that their plan was to be cautious and we did not find a lot of space to attack. Fortunately, we managed to score," Porto FC striker Radamel Falcao said.
The opening goal arrived on the stroke of halftime after a period of patient play saw Adrian Ramos slide the ball home for his second international goal after a brilliant ball from Porto's Fredy Guarin. The Colombians failed to capitalize on their dominance, and despite numerous chances late on, were made to settle for a 1-0 win despite profligate finishing.
The opening exchanges were punctuated by tackles and poor passing, with both sides failing to set an early tempo. The Costa Ricans’ searing pace on the wings caused initial havoc, yet it was Los Cafeteros who instigated attacking chances within the first quarter of an hour with a string of opportunities.
Firstly, a simple ball evaded the defense and found its way to Falcao, with the in-form Porto hitman denied by a last-ditch tackle from Pedro Leal. Seconds later, Los Ticos were able to breathe easy with Moreira, on his international debut, saving well from Fredy Guarin. The young goalkeeper was forced into a third smart save in as many minutes as Ricardo La Volpe’s youthful side found themselves on the ropes.
The match had evolved into a physical one from the Costa Rican perspective, with three players picking up bookings in order to stem the fluidity of the Colombian attack in the final third. A nasty tackle from captain Randall Brenes on Luis Perea earned him a straight red card in the 28th minute, a decision taken swiftly by referee Enrique Osses.
Los Ticos continued to absorb the attacks, and looked to break frequently on the counter, yet they couldn’t find a way past a resolute rearguard. Colombia had almost found itself a goal up in fortuitous fashion in the 37th minute, after a searching ball from Guarin enabled a goalkeeping mix-up between Moreira and Acosta, with Falcao unable to pounce.
The breakthrough finally arrived to appease the frustrated supporters, as a sensational lofted ball from Guarin carved open the defense and found Ramos who was on hand to take control and round the goalkeeper to hand Colombia a slender 1-0 lead at half-time.
The beginning of the second half mirrored that of the first, with Los Cafeteros stringing together chances. Moreira was again called into action and pulled off a great stop from substitute Hugo Rodallega. The Wigan man cut in from the left and unleashed a stinging shot which the young goalkeeper was equal to.
Falcao hit the underside of the bar soon after with a header, yet the Porto hitman was at this point failing to conjure up the flashes of brilliance he showed during the club season. Costa Rica went close with a free kick from David Guzman, but was unable to persistently trouble Neco Martinez in the Colombian goal.
Hernan Dario Gomez brought on Teofilo Gutierrez in place of Dayro Moreno in search for a killer second goal to add to their unquestionable dominance of play. Falcao was then replaced by Mainz striker Elkin Soto, which ended a slightly disappointing game for the striker who notched 39 goals in a stellar club season.
Colombia had their chances to add to the tally late on through Teo and Guarin, yet the tournament's supposed dark horses were largely kept at bay by thanks to a determined and stubborn Costa Rica side which was down to 10 men for the best part of an hour.
"To start with a win is a huge step because if you lose or draw it becomes very difficult,” said Falcao. “We need to keep both improving and growing as a team."
Nevertheless, Los Cafeteros go top of Group A despite their unconvincing win, two points clear, but will need to improve on their performance and finishing in their next game. Colombia entertains host and favorite Argentina in Santa Fe on Wednesday evening. Los Ticos encounter Bolivia in Jujuy the following day.