It’s 2-1 to Costa Rica in 67th minute and Shirley Cruz decides to end the game. Up until then, Panama were hanging on through sheer determination and outstanding saves by Yenith Bailey, but when the corner kick from Katherine Alvarado floated into the box, Cruz drifted into space and found the corner of the goal. No other marker was near her so she could have made it easier for herself and brought the ball down first before shooting but Cruz wasn’t interested in easy last night. She wanted the spectacular.
Volleys are usually a thing of beauty in football and any time someone hits it first-time with the right technique, you cannot help but applaud the effort. You need maximum concentration and a calmness within to not rush your kick. Cruz showed that by watching the flight of the ball the entire way and then angling her body correctly to hit the ball sweetly. With that much time, her concentration could have slipped and she could have ended up either skying the ball into the stands or making it easy for Bailey to stop the goal. Instead, Shirley Cruz showed just why she spent six years with Paris Saint-Germain Féminine with a top finish from about 12 yards out.
At 34 years old, Cruz is nearing the end of her career but what has never been in doubt is just how technically gifted she is. For most of her international career, her compatriots have not been at a similar level as her and thus, she has only been to the World Cup once in her lifetime. Costa Rica has not been provided with enough resources to truly ever challenge in the CONCACAF region which has limited most observers from witnessing how good Cruz actually is, but every time the World Cup and Olympic qualifiers roll around, Cruz shows glimpses of what she could do had she had a better team around her.
On Tuesday night, Costa Rica put six goals past Panama. It also puts them at the top of Group A with three more matches to play. If Cruz can keep producing moments of magic like she did last night, who’s to say that Costa Rica’s outside chance of making Tokyo 2020 won’t become a reality?