The team that beat the team that beat Costa Rica is better than Costa Rica, right? Wrong. Los Ticos exit Copa America Centenario with their heads held high, taking a 3-2 win over Colombia as their memento from the tournament.
Colombia put a little too much faith in the transitive property and put out a lineup featuring just one starter (Sebastian Perez) from the preceding 2-1 win over Paraguay that guaranteed Los Cafeteros a place in the quarterfinals.
But not all places in the next round are created equal. As Group A winner, Colombia would most likely have faced Ecuador or Peru; as Group A runner-up, it will probably have to play Brazil. Los Cafeteros are talented and need not fear the Brazilians, but they have even less reason to fear Ecuador or Peru.
Copa America's organizers will be pleased if there is a showpiece match-up in at least one of the tournament's quarterfinals: Brazil vs Colombia should sell a few tickets. USMNT will be even more pleased: Costa Rica's victory means the USA has won Group A and likely ducks a quarterfinal match against one of the tournament heavyweights. Jurgen Klinsmann's final-four ambitions will look a little more achievable if the team is matched up against Peru or Ecuador in the next round instead of Brazil.
But those calculations must wait until Group B is concluded. All that is certain for USMNT after Los Ticos' thrilling victory is that it will be playing in Seattle for its next game. The prize for winning Group A is a long flight to the West Coast, rather than a short hop to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (USMNT played its last group stage game - the 1-0 win over Paraguay - in Philadelphia). But also, most likely, a less imposing opponent will be waiting in Washington.
If the USA does skip Brazil in the quarterfinals and make the semis, the thank-you card to Costa Rica should mostly be addressed to Johan Venegas.
Making his first start of the tournament, the Montreal Impact forward tortured Colombia. Within two minutes of kick-off, he had Los Ticos on the board with an extraordinary strike from distance.
He followed that by inducing Frank Fabra into a own-goal.
In between, Fabra had evaded the entire Costa Rica defense and equalized for Los Cafeteros, and Ticos 'keeper Patrick Pemberton had to work to keep his team from falling behind. But the hammer blow arrived in the second half, after James Rodriguez and Edwin Cardona had joined the match for the Colombians. In the 58th minute, Christian Bolanos lobbed the Colombia defense, Bryan Oviedo one-timed a cross into the box, and Celso Borges put Los Ticos up 3-1.
Marlos Moreno got one back for Colombia in the 73rd minute, but Costa Rica prevailed.
Los Ticos did not win Group A, but they were its kingmakers. And they are the reason USMNT fans in New Jersey will have to make do with Colombia, while those in Seattle wait for the Group B finale to find out who the USA will be hosting.