For the second day in a row, Portland fans were left wondering if, ahead of a Timbers player's final World Cup game, their player would play. Only whereas Peru’s Andy Polo was left on the bench for a third game in a row yesterday, Costa Rica’s David Guzmán was in his team’s starting XI today. For the third game in a row.
The through line between Ricardo Gareca’s Peru and Óscar Ramirez’s Costa Rica was continuity. With each team precluded from reaching the knockout round after the results of their first two matches, World Cup watchers naturally wondered whether either would ring in major changes for their teams’ final group stage games, be that because of a need to change tactics or a desire to get their unused players some time at a World Cup.
Instead, each manager decided to play their best teams, which largely meant starting the same players they tried to win with in games one and two. For Costa Rica, that meant nine starters who were on the field for los Ticos’ loss to Brazil returned to the XI for the team’s finale against Switzerland. Given how Costa Rica performed against the Seleçao, staying even with them until two late goals, rolling over a largely unchanged lineup made sense, if getting a result was Ramirez’ primary concern.
On Wednesday, that decision was vindicated, with Costa Rica getting their only result of the tournament. Despite falling behind twice to Switzerland, the Costa Ricans came back, twice: once through Vancouver Whitecaps FC central defender Kendall Watson; and once through a stoppage time own goal from Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
When Peru got their lone result, yesterday, defeating Australia, 2-0, we talked about the importance the win may have had for a nation that hadn’t qualified for a World Cup in 36 years, hadn’t won a game at the event in 40. Coming off their success at Brazil 2014, Costa Rica wasn’t in the same situation. After a quarterfinal run four years ago, los Ticos might have expected more than putting up a good fight.
But they did put up a good fight. A near-stalemate against Serbia. Pushing Brazil into the final minutes. Claiming a result from Switzerland that kept their opponent from claiming their group’s top spot. It would be too much to say that, if one thing broke another way, Costa Rica would be into the knockout round. But two things breaking another way? That might have seen Ramirez’s team through.
It was David Guzmán’s team, too. He wasn’t the only Tico to start all three games, but as reflected by his head coach’s trust, he was a part of why they showed so well. And while the Timbers' midfielder likely joins his teammates and wishing Costa Rica had accomplished more, he still returns from Russia with something to be proud of.
Four more Round of 16 places were clinched on Wednesday, with Thursday’s final day of group play marking Russia’s last opening stage matches before the knockout round.
The day began at 7:00 a.m. with Mexico looking to close out Group F. A funny thing happened en route to the group’s top spot, though, with Sweden handing El Tri a decisive 3-0 loss. That left Mexico needing South Korea to take points from Germany to avoid elimination, and shockingly, the Koreans obliged. The 2-0 upset of the reigning champions sent the Germans home, marking the fourth straight World Cup that the holders have failed to make it out of the opening round.
In Group E play, Brazil took advantage of Switzerland’s slip by claiming sole possession of first place, vaulting to the top spot with a 2-0 win over Serbia in Moscow. The victory sets up a Round of 16 match against Mexico, while Switzerland faces fellow UEFA qualifiers Sweden.
The World Cup continues on Thursday at 7:00 a.m. PT, when Group H concludes play with Senegal facing Colombia and Japan facing Poland. All of Colombia (1-1-0), Japan (1-0-1) and Senegal (1-0-1) control their own destinies, while Poland (0-2-0) has already been eliminated from the competition.
At 11:00 a.m. PT, the final matches of group play kick off with England and Belgium fighting for the top spot in Group G. Both teams are guaranteed a place in the Round of 16, and with the final order so uncertain in Group H (from where the teams’ potential knockout round matchups will come), it’s unclear how much of an advantage either team will earn by claiming first in their group.
Tunisia and Panama also kickoff at 11:00 a.m., with the Major League Soccer players on the Canaleros’ roster in the same situation as David Guzmán and Andy Polo. As Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said in his Tuesday press conference, Portland continues to be contact with the Costa Rican and Peruvian federations about the players’ returns. But with the World Cup over for the Timbers’ two representatives in Russia, expect that return to happen sooner, rather than later.