Costa Rica 2 Bermuda 1
They may have suffered a narrow defeat against Costa Rica on a sweltering Texas night, but in exiting the Concacaf Gold Cup at the group stage, Bermuda won the respect of the region with a stirring showing at the Toyota Stadium.
Kyle Lightbourne’s men were bold, brave and ambitious.
Against a star-studded Costa Rica side who are 135 places above them in the world rankings, Bermuda did not look out of place and once again created a slew of scoring chances.
The Central Americans took the lead almost against the run of play, then appeared to put the game to bed with the second early in the second half. Bermuda, however, made the final half-hour interesting through a Nahki Wells penalty.
Costa Rica at times were holding on but in the end did enough to advance to the quarter-finals from group B with Haiti, 2-0 victors over Nicaragua earlier in the evening.
Bermuda made a bright start to the game, just as they did against Haiti, crafting the first chance when Willie Clemons quickly released Wells, who outpaced the Costa Rica backline before dragging a weak effort harmlessly wide.
Wells, who had a strong claim for a penalty turned down, had the ball in the back of the net moments later, but the flag was already up with the forward was well offside.
“I just wish we could replay that one moment in the first half when Nahki has been caught [in the box],” Lightbourne said. “I think the guy did it deliberately, but I just think the referee was afraid to make that decision.
“The little country didn’t the decision. I can’t fault my players for the effort they put in and their never-say-die attitude.”
Bermuda were enjoying the better of the early exchanges in the first meeting between the two sides.
They very nearly took the lead in the fifteenth minute when Clemons flashed a left-footed shot into the side-netting from a neat pullback by Reggie Lambe with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Hearts were in mouths at the other end, though, when Joel Campbell cut inside Osagi Bascome, curling in a delivery from the right that took a deflection off Jaylon Bather’s head and required the excellent Dale Eve to dive to his left and push the ball around the corner.
Bermuda, who missed a glut of chances against Haiti, then squandered another opening when a shot from Wells ricocheted off two Costa Rica defenders, falling invitingly into the path of Lambe.
The peroxide blonde-haired winger should have done far better, taking a needless touch before side-footing straight at Leonel Moreira in the Costa Rica goal.
Lightbourne’s side were playing with real confidence, moving the ball swiftly between the lines and causing Costa Rica problems with their pace and movement.
It was Costa Rica, however, who took the lead on the half-hour mark through forward Mayron George, who drove the ball between Eve’s legs after the goalkeeper had done well to palm away a back-post header by Oscar Duarte from a corner.
Bermuda almost fell farther in arrears when Duarte then headed inches wide of Eve’s top right-hand corner from inside the six-yard box.
Eve displayed his impressive agility in the 41st minute, making a superb save from a Celso Borges free kick from a central position, tipping the ball over for a corner.
Bermuda were still creating chances, with Wells breaking free before thrashing his shot well over the bar. It was the Burnley striker’s third great chance of the tournament and third time he had failed to hit the target.
“We had a good chance in the first half and we didn’t take it,” Lightbourne added. “That’s probably our tournament right there. We’re just not taking our chances. It’s frustrating, but we have to take it on the chin and grow.”
Costa Rica made a switch at half-time, bringing on Bryan Ruiz as the second striker for the largely anonymous Jonathan McDonald.
Costa Rica, who enjoyed 63 per cent of the possession in the first half, were building up a head of steam and doubled their lead in the 54th minute when Aguilar was afforded too much time and space, drilling his shot into the bottom right-hand corner.
Brangman forced a flying save from Moreira with a strike from distance before Bermuda won a penalty in the 59th minute when Jalen Harvey was upended in the box after a well-worked free kick.
Wells was calmness personified from the spot, dispatching his effort straight down the middle to make it 2-1.
Bermuda were right back in the game and went close again when Wells linked up with Clemons, who took too many touches and ran the ball out of play.
Both coaches made double substitutions in the 72nd minute, with Gustavo Matosas bringing on Christian Bolanos and Ronald Matarrita for Campbell and Aguilar, while Clemons and Zeiko Lewis made way for Justin Donawa and Tre Ming.
Lightbourne made his third substitution in the 80th minute, throwing on another forward, Jonté Smith, for Osagi Bascome.
Smith made his presence known immediately and went close with a turn and shot that he could not quite wrap his foot around.
Bermuda survived a last-minute scare when George drew a block from Eve and then somehow struck the crossbar from the rebound when it appeared easier to score.
It would have been extremely harsh on Bermuda, who gave as good as they got against a nation that has qualified for four of the past five World Cups.
“We showed everybody that we deserved to be here,” Lightbourne added. “We pushed a World Cup team for 90 minutes. Yes, we rode our luck a little bit, but they rode their luck as well.”
Costa Rica: George 30, Aguilar 54
Bermuda: Wells 59 pen
Costa Rica (4-3-3): L Moreira — O Duarte, B Oviedo, C Gamboa, K Waston — C Borges, A Cruz, E Aguilar (sub: R Matarrita, 72min) — J Campbell (sub: C Bolanos, 70), M George, J McDonald (sub: B Ruiz, 46). Substitutes not used: B Segura, M Madrigal, G Gonzalez, K Fuller, A Saborio, F Calvo, Y Tejeda, R Leal. Booked: Duarte, Ruiz.
Bermuda (4-3-3): D Eve — D Brangman, D Leverock, J Bather, J Harvey — R Lambe, O Bascome (sub: J Smith, 80), W Clemons (sub: T Ming, 72) — M Butterfield, N Wells, Z Lewis (sub: J Donawa, 72). Substitutes not used: J Hill, Q Hunt, R Lee, C Basden, C Minors, L Simmons, C Robinson, M Warren. Booked: Bather, Ming.
Referee: Y Martinez (Cuba).
• Stephen Wright travelled to Frisco, Texas, courtesy of Jet Blue, which provided flights between San José, Costa Rica, Orlando and Austin. Flights available from www.jetblue.com