Omar Bravo scores the game-winner and Pavel Pardo adds another as Mexico beat Costa Rica 2-0 in Estadio Azteca on Saturday.
The win gives Mexico three points and restores some of the faith that seemed to have been slipping since El Tri began their streak of four winless qualifying games late last year. Now, Mexico enter Honduras with some points and possibly a bit of swagger.
Mexico were disciplined and organized defensively and limited Costa Rica's scoring chances throughout the match. The Mexican midfield and defense were stronger than their Tico counterparts while the attack did just enough to put the game away.
Mexico began the match with seemingly a grand advantage as a sold-out crowd of more than 110,000 greeted El Tri onto the immaculate Estadio Azteca pitch. Starting forwards Matias Vuoso and Omar Bravo nearly combined for an early goal as the two raced into the Costa Rican penalty area and won a corner kick just nine seconds into the match. Mexico showed early that they would play with a sense of urgency but neither side dominated possession in the early going. In fact, it was Costa Rica who had an early scoring chance when Michael Umana nearly got onto the end of a free kick that sailed over Mexico's defense and toward the back post, but the ball sailed a bit high over Umana's outstretched leg.
It was Bravo who gave Mexico an early lead. In the 20th minute, Vuoso slipped a pass to Bravo some 30 yards out. Bravo darted toward the penalty area, slipped past Costa Rican defender Junior Diaz and ripped a shot on goal. Costa Rican 'keeper Ricardo Gonzalez made a save but the rebound went straight to Bravo, who easily knocked it into the back of the net. The goal was Bravo's 15th goal for Mexico in his 71st game. Having been mired in a months-long slump with Deportivo la Coruna, Bravo recently returned to Mexico and perhaps his games with Tigres have helped him regain his confidence.
Mexico won a free kick on the left flank when Costa Rica's Esteban Granados tackled Andres Guardado from behind and earned a yellow card for the challenge. The set piece, however, did not yield any results.
Vuoso was inches away from possibly doubling Mexico's lead but he fanned on a header at the half-hour mark. A cross came in from the left flank and Vuoso had space between Costa Rican defenders but his attempt was off. Around 10 minutes later, Vuoso was booked after a late slide tackle on Fernandez in the middle of the field.
After the break, Mexico came started with the same players who began the match. Costa Rica, meanwhile, brought on Alvaro Saborio in favor of Granados as manager Rodrigo Kenton went in search of more offense.
Mexico won a corner kick in the 52nd minute after Roy Myrie was ruled to have knocked Pardo down from behind inside the penatly area. Pardo took the penalty kick himself and easily converted the penalty kick.
Three minutes later, Costa Rica tested Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa for the first time. Saborio lined up a 30-yard free kick and fired a low, hard shot on goal. Standing on the goal line, Ochoa went down to the ground and stopped the shot.
In the 59th minute, Guardado ripped a 25-yard shot from the left flank and Gonzalez did well to turn the shot away. On the ensuing corner kick, Vuoso pushed a header just wide of the goal.
Costa Rica's Junior Diaz fired a shot on goal minutes later and forced Ochoa to make a save. Still, Costa Rican players seemed in a haze during the early moments of the second half and were creating little dangerous possession before Diaz's shot. Second-half substitutes, Saborio and Pablo Brenes added to Costa Rica's attack and helped the Ticos look a bit more dangerous than they had.
Despite trailing by two goals, Costa Rica could not break through Mexico's well-planted backline. Gerardo Torrado, who replaced Andres Guardado in the midfield midway through the second half, gave Mexico more bulk in the middle of the field while Jonny Magallon took Ricardo Osorio's spot, but Costa Rica were doing little before then to penetrate into Mexico's third of the field.
Costa Rica whimpered quietly to finish the game and will return home to play El Salvador while Mexico travel to San Pedro Sula for a game against Honduras.
Mexico: Guillermo Ochoa; Ricardo Osorio (Jonny Magallon, 80), Leobardo Lopez, Aaron Galindo, Fausto Pinto; Fernando Arce, Pavel Pardo, Leandro Augusto, Andres Guardado (Gerardo Torrado, 80); Omar Bravo, Matias Vuoso (Omar Arellano, 88).
Costa Rica: Ricardo Gonzalez; Roy Myrie (Armando Alonso, 60), Michael Umana, Freddy Fernandez, Junior Diaz; Oscar Granado (Alvaro Saborio, 46), Celso Borges, William Sunsing (Pablo Brenes, 51), Oscar Rojas; Andy Furtado, Bryan Ruiz.
Mexico - Bravo 20
Mexico - Pardo (penalty kick) 52