Costa Rica 3-1 Victory Amid Newcastle Stadium Controversy
Costa Rica secured a 3-1 victory over Saudi Arabia in a friendly match held at St James' Park. Prior to the game, Newcastle United fans had staged a protest regarding the use of their stadium by the Saudi team, given that the majority shareholder of Newcastle is Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund. Critics contended that this takeover constituted "sportswashing," a tactic employed by a regime to enhance its image through involvement in sports.
The match marked the return of Costa Rica's captain, Keylor Navas, who had not played for his national team since the previous year's World Cup in Qatar. Navas had missed several friendlies and the CONCACAF Gold Cup held in July.
Costa Rica took the lead in the 12th minute when defender Francisco Calvo scored with a header from Joel Campbell's cross. Manfred Ugalde extended the lead to 2-0 just after the half-hour mark, also with a header from Jimmy Marin's pass. Saudi Arabia, under the management of former Italy coach Roberto Mancini, managed to pull one goal back in the 68th minute when Ali Al Bulayhi scored with a header from Feras Al Brikan's corner.
However, Saudi Arabia couldn't find the equalizer, and Costa Rica sealed the victory when Randall Leal scored in the 89th minute.
Keylor Navas expressed his joy at returning to the pitch, saying, "Great work by the whole team and good win, it's always nice to play again."
Costa Rica's interim coach, Claudio Vivas, praised Navas, emphasizing his distinguished career and the importance of playing for Real Madrid. Costa Rica's next friendly will be against the United Arab Emirates in Croatia.
These two friendly matches were part of Saudi Arabia's preparations for the AFC Asian Cup scheduled for January 2024 in Qatar, with Saudi Arabia aiming to secure their fourth Asian Cup title, having last won it in 1996.