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CONCACAF qualifying

Arena terms late penalty 'disgraceful,' Medford's kick in 93d sinks U.S. 2-1.

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Sunday, July 23, 2000) -- Two wrongs don't make a right, says the old American adage. Here in the closing moments, however, a pair of faulty rulings by referee Peter Prendergast led to Hernan Medford's penalty kick in the third minute of injury time, giving Costa Rica a 2-1 triumph in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying match at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa before an estimated 28,000 this afternoon.

For the second straight Sunday, the U.S. permitted a costly goal at the end of regulation. A week ago, Guatemala salvaged a tie at home with a goal in the 85th minute. The Americans now return home for three straight home matches in the four-nation Group E semifinal round.

The Americans, 7-8-3 overall, are 0-4-2 in Costa Rica, where the U.S. suffered its only two losses of 1998 World Cup qualifying. The setback ended U.S. streak of eight qualifying matches without a loss, dating back to 1997.

Claudio Reyna
Claudio Reyna
"This one is tough to swallow," said U.S. midfielder and captain Claudio Reyna. "I thought we did a great job to battle back, and it hurts to see it be all for nothing."

The U.S. (0-1-1) has left itself little room for error in the four remaining semifinal games, starting with Barbados (1-1) August 16 at Foxboro Stadium outside of Boston at 8 p.m. (ET). The broadcast of that game on ESPN 2 will be delayed until 11:30 p.m.

Four minutes before Prendergast ruled U.S. defender Gregg Berhalter had handled a ball in his penalty area, American late reserve Frankie Hejduk escaped unpunished with a wild tackle in the box that certainly should have produced a penalty call.

There was no whistle then, but late in extra time, Berhalter headed down a ball that Prendergast ruled glanced off the defender's left arm. Though the ball appeared to hit only Berhalter's forehead, the referee pointed to the spot -- obviously, trying to atone for his earlier mistake.

The American players did not face the news media, but in a written statement, Berhalter said, "I headed it out of bounds. It did not touch my chest or hands . . . The referee was under pressure to make something happen and he made a bad call."

Medford drilled his penalty into the right side as U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller guessed wrong and went in the other direction.

"This was disgraceful," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "I told the ref he cheated us, and I'd like to see him walk in this locker room and explain this officiating to these players."

Although outplayed by a confident U.S. effort in the first half, the only shot by Costa Rica (1-1) in the first 45 minutes produced a 1-0 lead at intermission. On a quick counterattack, Medford ran unchallenged down the right center of the field. Approaching the penalty area, Medford served a swooping cross to the far post where an unmarked Rolando Conseca headed it back into the right corner of the goal just out of reach of a sprawling Keller.

Berhalter, who stepped up when he saw Medford roaming free, could not get back to cover Conseca.

After controlling play in the first half and compiling an 8-1 shots advantage in the first half, the U.S. was under siege in the second half. Costa Rica attacked relentlessly, highlighted by a five-minute span around the 60th minute in which the "Ticos" had an alarming number of scoring opportunities in front of the U.S. goal, including a shot that went wide right of an open net and a goal that was called back with two players ruled offside.

The flurry of dangerous Costa Rican scoring opportunities and the roar of the partisan crowd subsided in the 65th minute with a swift U.S. counterattack. Chris Armas started the play in midfield feeding defender Tony Sanneh overlapping down the right flank. He sent a ball ahead to forward Ante Razov, who touched the ball with his left foot to his right with which he cracked a right-footed shot that Costa Rica goalkeeper Alvaro Mesen pushed to his right with a dive. Speedy U.S. midfielder Earnie Stewart was there for the rebound and easily tapped it eight yards into the empty net.

Razov, who had scored in the three consecutive games -- one shy of a U.S. record -- prior to today's match, was dangerous up front, registering seven shots before exiting in the 87th minute.

As each team started making its three substitutions within the last 15 minutes of the game, the tide turned again. Despite the USA's defensive subs and accompanying posture, the invigorated Costa Rican side controlled play and pushed hard for the game-winner, forcing Keller to thwart several dangerous chances in the box.

World Cup Qualifying
Team W L T GF GA Pts
Guatemala 1 0 1 3 1 4
Barbados 1 1 0 2 3 3
Costa Rica 1 1 0 3 3 3
USA 0 1 1 2 3 1
Group E standings through 2 rounds

Other games
Barbados 0
Guatemala 2

In the other Group E qualifying action, Guatemala (1-0-1) posted a 2-0 home win over Barbados yesterday and now leads the group with four points.

Following the important August 16 date at Foxboro Stadium against Barbados, the U.S. will face Guatemala on September 3 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and Costa Rica on Oct. 11 at Columbus (Ohio) Crew Stadium before flying to Barbados for the last road match on November 16.

Costa Rica 2, United States 1

Lineups: Costa Rica - Alvaro Mesen, Harold Wallace, Reynaldo Park, Alexander Madrigal, Rordrigo Cordero, Sandro Alfaro (Austin Berry 76), Walter Senteno, Rolando Fonseca (Rayner Robinson 76), Hernan Medford (captain), Jafet Soto (Jonathan Balanos 86), Paulo Wanchope. United States - Kasey Keller, David Regis, Tony Sanneh, Gregg Berhalter, Greg Vanney, Earnie Stewart, Claudio Reyna (captain), Chris Armas, Eddie Lewis (Chad Deering 86), Cobi Jones (Frankie Hejduk 77), Ante Razov (Jason Kreis 87).

Scoring:
Costa Rica - Fonseca (Medford) 10.
United States - Stewart (Razov) 65.
Costa Rica - Medford (penalty kick)  93+.

Shots: Costa Rica 7, United States 21. Saves: Costa Rica 2, United States 7. Corner kicks: Costa Rica 2, United States 5. Fouls: Costa Rica 20, United States 19. Offside: Costa Rica 6, United States 3. Yellow card cautions: Costa Rica - Alfaro 59, Medford 69; United States - Vanney 12, Kreis 88, Stewart 94+.

Referee: Peter Prendergast (Jamaica). Assistant referees: Anthony Garwood (Jamaica), Pernel LaTouche (Jamaica). Attendance: 28,000 (estimated) at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica. Weather: 68 degrees, pleasant.

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