By Steve Keating
(Reuters) -Battling Costa Rica edged 10-man Canada 1-0 on Thursday to deny the North Americans their first chance to clinch a spot in the 2022 World Cup finals.
Canada arrived in San Jose unbeaten in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying and looking to secure a berth in their first World Cup finals since 1986.
In little more than a half hour, though, they found themselves down 10 men and things went from bad to worse when Celso Borges netted a first half stoppage-time header that proved the only goal of the game.
Despite the loss, Canada sit top of the group standings on 25 points, three points clear of Mexico and the United States who battled to 0-0 draw at Azteca Stadium. With the win, Costa Rica moved into fourth on 19 points, still in the hunt for automatic qualification.
The top three automatically earn spots in November’s World Cup in Qatar with the fourth-place finisher facing an Oceania team in an intercontinental playoff for another berth.
Canada’s next chance to end their 36-year World Cup finals wait comes when they host Jamaica on Sunday in Toronto, before wrapping up qualifying on Wednesday away to Panama.
“This is football, we win 17 games where we’ve had the football gods with us,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “They weren’t with us tonight.
“But that’s made us hungry to come back home and take what we need to take.
“We’ll get back to Canada, we’ll regroup and with this talent and passion and desire after this match we’ll be ready.”
Despite their group rivals gaining ground, Herdman was confident Canada would advance.
“We’re not looking over our shouder, destiny is in our hands,” he added.
“We’ll get to Qatar.”
They’ll hope for a better start than in San Jose, where they were reduced to 10 men in the 34th minute when Mark-Anthony Kaye picked up a second yellow card.
Borges superb header put the Ticos in front, but they faced a more disciplined, regrouped Canada in the second half as the visitors applied all the pressure. Tajon Buchanan hit the crossbar and Richie Laryea’s long-range drive forced a diving save out of Keylor Navas.
In Panama, the home side needed a victory over winless Honduras to try to scrap their way into the top three. But they were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw when a Kevin Lopez 65th minute header cancelled out Rolando Blackburn’s first half strike.
The draw dropped Panama into fifth, a point behind Costa Rica, but still in the chase for a spot in Qatar with two games remaining.
In Kingston, El Salvador saw their hopes of getting to the finals end with a 1-1 draw with Jamaica.
Needing a win to keep alive any chance of sealing fourth place and a playoff, El Salvador started brightly, going ahead in the 21st minute with Eriq Zavaleta heading home from a corner.
But Jamaica, already eliminated, struck back to crush El Salvador dreams with a 72nd minute equaliser from Andre Gray.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell/Peter Rutherford)