When the final whistle blew, the relief on the faces of young Germans at the Fatorda stadium in Goa was palpable. They had won, but barely. Had a couple of decisive moments played out differently than they did, the result could've been the same, 2-1, except in favour of Costa Rica.
Germany usually like to play with control. They like to conduct the proceedings, take charge and exchange quick passes while moving forward. But it was clear that Costa Rica surprised them during the initial stages and threw them off their game. The Germans perhaps took their opponents lightly and didn't expect them to come at them the way they did. They recovered after they took the lead, only to become too comfortable again and concede. The story of the game, however, was told in missed chances and both sides were equal culprits.
Germany's spell of good football was sandwiched between periods of wastefulness. But when they clicked, there were a sight to behold. Nicolas-Gerrit Kuhn, Elias Abouchabaka and John Yeboah dictated midfield, slipping between a crowd of Costa Ricans, exchanging passes and creating spaces out of thin air for their skipper and star forward Jann-Fiete Arp to run into. It was clear that if the Germans, who had finished third at the U-17 Euros earlier this year, could play their exhilarating football for a prolonged period of time, they could be serious contenders to be world champions, like their senior team.
It was Costa Rica, however, who took the initiative early on. They started causing problems seconds after the kick-off. Germany lost the ball through a wayward pass and Costa Rica capitalised in transition, finding themselves in space on the right.
Ronnier Bustamante was brought down by Yannik Keitel and Costa Rica had a dead ball opportunity from a dangerous area before the clock could reach 20 seconds. The resulting free-kick, taken directly by Greivin Fonseca from over 30 yards out from an acute angle, indicated the proceedings. Throughout the game, both teams wasted innumerable dead ball situations as players, looking for glory, tried to take direct free-kicks from unfathomable places, when they should have just put the ball in the box.
Good chances were squandered, mostly due to bad decision making by either side. The rest were down to poor finishing. Just a couple of minutes later, Costa Rica, presented with a golden opportunity to score, exhibited just that. The German goalkeeper Luca Plogmann found himself in a bit of a twist when one of his defenders sent a high backpass towards him. He tried to head the ball down to his feet and, under pressure from Andre Gomez, bungled it to Josue Abarca running in from the right. Plogmann froze, the German goal was an empty parking lot, Abarca squared the ball in for Jose Alfaro, their highscoring forward who had impressed in the CONCACAF Championships — the ideal man for the ball to come to. Alfaro, facing an empty goal, wrapped his foot around the ball first time and sent it whizzing over the cross bar.
Costa Rica could not have gotten a better chance to score. The Germans replied in kind three minutes later by missing a similar chance, when Jan Boller's shot from inside the box didn't trouble the Costa Rican goalkeeper and was well over the crossbar.
For a while, it seemed both the teams were working on a "you first" strategy. Neither of the two had much trouble in creating chances. If we were to see an expected goals map of the map, it would be littered with little boxes in and around the two 18-year boxes.
So when the deadlock broke in the 21st minute, one could see Costa Rica's chin go down and shoulders fall. They had been the better side till then. But Germany had a better finisher. It was no surprise that Arp, Germany's most exciting U-17 prospect and top scorer at the Euros, found the net.
Costa Rica lost possession in the midfield and Kuhn passed the ball up. Out of nowhere, Arp was through on goal. Ricardo Montenegro had saved Costa Rica from going down twice before, but this time Arp was just too good. The German skipper chipped the ball with the outside of his boot over an on-rushing Montenegro and cushioned it in the net: a finish of top class calibre.
Once they went up, Germany dominated. Their passing became more fluid and confident and their quality was at once apparent. Arp could have doubled the lead right at the stroke of half-time. Kuhn ran down the right and put a ball in for an on-rushing Arp. His side-footed shot would've gone into the far corner of the net, but for Amferny Arias, who slid down and blocked it.
The Germans came out strong in the second half as well and took control early. Kuhn, Arp and Yeboah missed excellent chances to extend the lead. Montenegro was keeping Costa Rica alive in the game. Soon, Germany's wastefulness up front came back to haunt them. In the 64th minute, Bustamante bunted the ball up from the sidelines to the edge of the box. Abarca controlled it well, turned around a German defender and laid it off in the path of Gomez who made no mistake with the finish.
Within a flash, the Costa Ricans were level against the run of play. It was time for German shoulders to slouch. The high tempo game they had been playing deflated and they became prone to mistakes. The next twenty minutes, the Germans walked a tight rope, and their defence kept slipping up. More than once, their casual misplaced pass found a Costa Rican rather than the intended German, creating panic among their ranks.
The Germans themselves were no longer sharp going forward; their movement no longer nippy. When the goal finally came in the 89th minute, the Germans would have realised that they shouldn't have left the matters for late.
They had won, but they almost didn't. They must know that tougher opponents deeper in the competition will pounce on their mistakes and punish them. They must know that they won't get a dozen chances to score against a better defence. They showed glimpses of excellence, but they were just that: glimpses. Dominating the game for long periods but not being clinical enough are opposites when it comes to yielding a goal. They might've have scored five, but they only scored twice. Costa Rica, on the other hand, can take heart from their performance. If they could be more compact at the back, they could very well trouble teams on the counter.
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Updated Date: Oct 08, 2017 13:13:15 IST