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How lacklustre Northern Ireland allowed World Cup-bound Cost Rica stroll to send-off win

Costa Rica 3-0 Northern Ireland

By Paul Ferguson

Northern Ireland created history in baking hot San Jose on Sunday as World Cup-bound Costa Rica bade farewell to their passionate fans in style.

For the first time, Northern Ireland were playing with two sets of brothers in their team with second-half substitutes Ryan and Conor McLaughlin joining Jonny and Corry Evans on the pitch.

But that, and an 18-minute debut for young Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard, were the only highlights as a heavily depleted squad wilted under the intense midday sun, allowing Los Ticos to coast to a comfortable 3-0 win.

With at least 10 key players left at home for various reasons, Michael O'Neill's team were dominated at times by a side that scored two goals from corners and once with an effort that Trevor Carson may look back upon and believe he could have saved.

Northern Ireland pride themselves in their strength at set-pieces so yesterday's performance will have been particularly jarring for boss O'Neill, who suffered his heaviest defeat since Croatia in November 2016.

The 11am kick-off on the hottest day since the Northern Ireland team arrived in San Jose and the party atmosphere - for which home fans began arriving at 6am - appeared to slow the men in green down and they didn't have their usual urgency in the game.

The kick-off time, just like Tuesday night, was delayed by 10 minutes as Costa Rica honoured their Champions League winning goalkeeper Keylor Navas; the Real Madrid stopper given a standing ovation by the players around the centre circle a week on from helping his club side overcome Liverpool in Kiev.

He then received further applause in the 13th minute of the game and, with Northern Ireland on the defensive, he was happy to acknowledge his loud and proud supporters.

O'Neill, again playing a 3-5-2 formation, made just one change from the side that drew 0-0 in Panama with Lee Hodson coming in for Shane Ferguson. Leeds United's Stuart Dallas switched to left wing back with the Rangers man taking up his place on the right of a three-man defence.

Costa Rica dominated possession in the opening moments and it was clear that defensive discipline was going to be vitally important.

The visitors threatened for the first time on six minutes when Liam Boyce just failed to direct an effort goalward from Josh Magennis' knockdown, but it wasn't long before, Northern Ireland were soon on the back foot again.

Johan Venegas squeezed in between Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart to beat the offside trap but, as Northern Ireland retreated, he played the ball back to Joel Campbell, who could only drill his effort from the edge of the box over the bar.

The best chance of the early exchanges came on 18 minutes when a corner from David Guzman found Oscar Duarte but he directed his header wide.

Costa Rica were trying to exploit Northern Ireland's left flank - consistently putting pressure on Hughes and Dallas - and were thwarted on two occasions when Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley intervened with important headed clearances. A short drinks break failed to galvanise Northern Ireland and Costa Rica took the lead on the half hour mark from a set piece.

Campbell whipped in the corner towards the edge of the six yard box, four Northern Ireland players were caught out, it was glanced on by Gonzalez and Johan Venegas, having lost his marker, was there to nod into the net from close range.

Seconds later, Venegas beat the Northern Ireland defence, however Carson was equal to his shot.

Northern Ireland finally put the ball in Navas' hands from Dallas but it was never going to trouble a three-time Champions League winner.

Navas was ready for his third standing ovation of the day on 35 minutes, but standing alone in the midday sun was obviously not for him, so he was replaced by Lionel Moreira.

Striker Liam Boyce was struggling after being clattered into earlier in the game and, having failed to recover, he was forced off two minutes before the interval with Bradford's Shay McCartan coming on to win just his second cap.

Campbell caused numerous problems towards the interval, going close with a curling shot - but, less than a minute after the restart, he scored Costa Rica's second.

Los Ticos pushed forward, Daniel Colindres squared the ball in the box, Venegas left it and Campbell tucked through the legs of Hughes and over the dive of Carson. Yet another disappointing goal to concede.

After Carson saved well from Campbell again, that little piece of Irish FA history was made on 60 minutes with the introduction of the McLaughlin brothers for Magennis and Hodson.

Campbell, involved in every Costa Rica attack, sent in a dangerous cross towards Venegas which was just about cleared for a corner and, from the resulting set-piece, substitute Francisco Calvo rose highest in the box to power home a header.

After the second drinks break of the match and with 18 minutes to go, came a proud moment for 20-year-old keeper Hazard, who was given his debut, while Luke McCullough replaced Craig Cathcart. The Doncaster defender went straight into midfield as Jonny Evans moved back into a four-man defence.

The game petered out with Costa Rica happy with their three goals and they now head to Leeds for a match against England at Elland Road on Thursday before meeting Belgium and then finally reaching Russia with their first World Cup game against Serbia on Sunday, June 17.

For Northern Ireland, it will a month of watching the World Cup on television and reflecting on what might have been and hoping Aaron Hughes, as he contemplates retirement, decides to carry on with the Nations League starting in September.

It was not how O'Neill would have wanted to finish this tour of Central America but if one of the six under-21 players on this trip takes great inspiration and becomes a find, then the long trips to Panama and Costa Rica will have been worth it.

Costa Rica: Navas (Moreira, 35 mins), Gonzalez (Waston, 73 mins), Duarte (Calvo, 46 mins), Acosta, Oviedo, Gamboa (Smith, 64 mins), Guzman, Borges (Tejeda, 64 mins), Campbell, Colindres, Venegas (Matarrita, 70 mins). Unused subs: Ruiz, Wallace, Azofeifa, Pemberton, Urena.

Northern Ireland: Carson (Hazard, 73 mins), Hughes, McAuley, J Evans, Hodson (C McLaughlin, 60 mins), McNair, Dallas, Boyce (McCartan,39 mins), C Evans (Thompson, 85 mins), Cathcart (McCullough, 73 mins), Magennis (R McLaughlin, 60 mins). Unused subs: Ferguson, Whyte, Smyth, Lavery, Peacock-Farrell.

Referee: Fernando Guerrero Ramírez

Man of the match: Joel Campbell

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Our coverage of Northern Ireland's tour to play Panama and Costa Rica is brought to you in conjunction with BetMcLean.

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