Costa Rica’s core of stars like Keylor Navas, Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz created national soccer history in a memorable run to the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals.
They were all still there Tuesday, all with more than 100 appearances, all key to a 1-0 win over New Zealand in a World Cup intercontinental playoff in Qatar.
All earned a ticket back to Doha for Costa Rica in November and their third straight World Cup tournament together.
“Today is a joyful day,” said Navas, the captain and goalkeeper whose saves late in the game preserved the lead earned by Campbell’s third-minute goal. “We played many finals to be here, we played many matches in which we knew we couldn’t make any mistakes. And today was another one of those.”
Costa Rica completed a 32-nation World Cup lineup by withstanding a New Zealand team that rallied from the early setback to dominate possession and create more and better scoring chances.
New Zealand pressed, and Navas responded, even after going down to 10 men for the last quarter of the match in the air-conditioned Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on the outskirts of Doha.
Two key decisions after video review went against the Kiwis, cancelling out a possible equalizing goal by Chris Wood in the 39th and ensuring a red card in the 69th for a foul by Kosta Barbarouses. The midfielder was on the field as a substitute for just nine minutes.
In the tense late stages, Navas rose to push away a curling left-foot shot by Clayton Lewis and got down to block Wood’s low drive.
It lifted Costa Rica to a World Cup place that looked unlikely after a slow start last year in the eight-team North American qualifying group.
“This squad shows what it is like to be Costa Rican. They never quit, they always give 100 per cent,” said coach Luis Fernando Suarez, whose players reeled off four straight wins in February and March to earn the playoff entry.
New Zealand failed again in the final qualifying test. The latest Kiwis loss in intercontinental playoffs followed exits against Mexico for the 2014 tournament and Peru four years later.
Costa Rica coach Suarez scored his own World Cup hat trick. He previously took Ecuador to the 2006 tournament and led Honduras there in 2014.
“It is an obsession that I always pursued. To be in this position is beautiful,” Suarez said.
A tough World Cup assignment awaits as Suarez and his team will face two of the past three champions in Group E. Spain is the first opponent on Nov. 23, then Japan and Germany.
Costa Rica scored from its first attack when Campbell, the former Arsenal forward, muscled between two defenders near the penalty spot to meet a low cross from teenager Jewison Bennette. Campbell directed a left-foot shot low into the far corner of the net.
A World Cup place was the perfect gift for Bennette, who turns 18 on Wednesday.
North American soccer now matches traditional power South America in having four teams at the last of the 32-nation World Cups.
Costa Rica joins Canada, the United States and Mexico – the three co-hosts of the expanded 48-team tournament in 2026 – which advanced directly in March from regional qualifying.
Peru’s playoff loss to Australia on Monday in Qatar meant the South American challenge is just Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and – for now – Ecuador.
Ecuador’s place is being challenged by Chile in a dispute over an alleged ineligible player. Chile is targeting an appeal after FIFA shut down a disciplinary investigation last week.
Chile’s pending appeal means Tuesday’s playoff is not yet the last word on the World Cup lineup and not even the last game in the three-year global qualifying program.
FIFA has ordered Brazil and Argentina to replay their game abandoned last September in chaotic scenes. Brazilian health officials came on the field to dispute the quarantine status of some Argentina players.
The last official qualifier is scheduled for Sept. 22, just two months before the Nov. 21-Dec. 18 tournament.