CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Just when it seemed as though El Salvador would pull an upset win over Costa Rica, Randall Brenes swooped in and rescued a 1-1 draw for Los Ticos five minutes into second-half stoppage time at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night in their CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match.
Rodolfo Zelaya had given Los Cuscatlecos a 1-0 lead late in the first half, when he cracked a free kick into the net.
The Salvadorans set out the same way they did in their successful first half against Mexico last Sunday. With a solid back four and strong holding midfield, they managed to ward off Costa Rica for the majority of the match.
The few options the Ticos were able to generate in the first frame were nothing more than diluted advances by left winger Cristian Bolaños along the flank and a couple of bullied attempts by Real Salt Lake striker Álvaro Saborío. Deadly goal scorer Marcos Ureña hardly got a touch and was substituted in the second half by Bryan Ruiz.
Los Cuscatlecos got their tally in the last minute of the first half following a foul from Celso Borges on Zelaya on the edge of the 18-yard box. The striker himself lined up the free kick and curled his right-footed attempt over the wall and right past outstretched goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
In the second half, Costa Rica manager Ricard La Volpe opted to replace Ureña with Ruiz. The move resulted in a much-improved Ticos attack.
Costa Rica’s two best chances of the second 45 came off of combinations between Ruiz, Bolaños and Allen Guevara. But despite dominating the proceedings, Costa Rica simply couldn’t seem to find the back of the net.
Saborío finally buried one inside El Salvador’s goal in the 69th minute after Guevara generated a rebound from 'keeper Elías Montes, but the striker was ruled offside and the score was called off.
Ten minutes later, Saborío failed to equalize for Costa Rica in their clearest chance of the game. After a pinpoint cross from Ruiz left Saborío on a one-on-one with Montes, the RSL star struck it wide.
Costa Rica’s constant pressure finally paid dividends in their very final thrust of the night. Although El Salvador defended with every player they had, Brenes, who had come on for Hener Mora, entered the 18-yard box and beat his marker to finish to the far post.
The goal not only salvaged a 1-1 draw for Costa Rica, but the result also put them a step away from a spot in the quarterfinals with four points in Group A. El Salvador, on the other hand, await the result between Mexico and Cuba to find out whether or not they remain with some life in the Gold Cup.