FORTALEZA, Brazil: The World Cup hopes of Uruguay, who were missing influential striker Luis Suarez, were kept in check by Costa Rica who hit three second-half goals to humiliate the former champions 3-1 in Fortaleza yesterday.
Uruguay, fourth-place finishers in South Africa in 2010, were expected to battle Italy and England for one of the two qualifying places that offer access to the competition’s second round.
But that prospect has been made far more difficult which throws Group D wide open ahead of the England vs Italy clash in Manaus.
Edinson Cavani gave Oscar Tabarez’s side a first-half lead from the penalty spot, but Uruguay fell apart early in the second half when Joel Campbell and Oscar Duarte helped give Costa Rica a 2-1 lead.
Six minutes from the final whistle, Uruguay’s defence slipped up again when Marcos Urena was allowed to run in and roll the ball under ‘keeper Fernando Muslera.
Tabarez left Suarez on the bench in a bid to give the Liverpool striker more time following an operation to repair damage to the meniscus in his left knee just three weeks ago.
Diego Forlan, 35, started alongside Paris Saint Germain striker Cavani and when he nodded Cristian Rodriguez’s cross into the path of Diego Godin the Atletico Madrid defender beat goalkeeper Keylor Navas from close range, only to be ruled offside.
Cavani fluffed a volley minutes later but the south Americans began to build momentum and in the 23rd minute were given a boost when the referee pointed to the spot after skipper Diego Lugano was manhandled from behind by Junior Diaz as a probing cross came into the area.
Navas guessed right, but the Costa Rican goalkeeper was not quick enough to stop Cavani’s spot-kick from squeezing inside his left-hand post.
Uruguay survived a scare on the half hour when the ball fell to Giancarlo Gonzalez after a probing free kick was whipped in, but the defender’s side-footed shot was deflected out of play.
Costa Rica came close to levelling when a corner was whipped in from the left, Godin blocked Muslera and the ball sailed just past the head of Fulham striker Bryan Ruiz.
Forlan then had Navas scrambling back towards his goalline as a deflected shot from the striker crept dangerously towards the top corner of the keeper’s net.
Uruguay survived another scare minutes after the restart with Muslera forced into action at his near post to stop Duarte’s header after another free kick from Christian Bolanos caught the Uruguayan defence unawares.
Costa Rica were edging closer and when a dummy run into the area drew two defenders Arsenal forward Campbell latched onto a cut back from the byline to slam an angled drive past Muslera from just inside the area.
Three minutes later Duarte stunned Uruguay when he ran in to beat Christian Stuani to another free kick whipped in from distance, beating Muslera with a diving header from a tight angle.
Replays suggested Duarte may have been inches offside, but there was no doubt this was a different Costa Rican side from the opening half.
Minutes later Campbell was given enough space to unleash a drive from nearly 30 metres that inched just wide of Muslera’s upright. Six minutes from time, a superb defence-splitting pass from Campbell found Urena who ran in virtually unchallenged to roll the ball under the advancing Muslera from a tight angle.
Uruguay pushed hard to reduce the arrears, but tempers flared in the closing minutes when Maxi Pereira saw red for upending Campbell near the corner flag.