Costa Rica triumphs over Saudi Arabia following St. James’ park protest.

Costa Rica secured a 3-1 victory against Saudi Arabia in a friendly match at St James’ Park, but the event was marked by pre-match protests from Newcastle United fans regarding the use of the stadium by the Saudi team.

The match also marked the return of Ticos captain Keylor Navas, the former Real Madrid goalkeeper who hadn’t played for Costa Rica since the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He missed several friendlies and the CONCACAF Gold Cup 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 with another header just past the half-hour mark, assisted by Jimmy Marin.

Saudi Arabia, now managed by former Italy coach Roberto Mancini, pulled one goal back in the 68th minute when Ali Al Bulayhi scored from a corner with a header from Feras Al Brikan’s pass. However, they couldn’t find an equalizer, and Costa Rica sealed the win with Randall Leal’s goal in the 89th minute.

Keylor Navas expressed his joy at playing again, stating, “Great work by the whole team and good win, it’s always nice to play again,” on social media.

Costa Rica’s interim coach, Claudio Vivas, praised Navas and emphasized his importance, especially considering his successful tenure at Real Madrid.

Costa Rica’s next friendly match will be against the United Arab Emirates in Croatia on Tuesday.

Before the match, a group of Newcastle fans protested against the use of St James’ Park by Saudi Arabia, which will also host a match against South Korea on Tuesday. Newcastle’s majority shareholder is Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and critics argue that the club’s acquisition amounts to “sportswashing” by a regime seeking to improve its image. These friendly matches are part of Saudi Arabia’s preparations for the AFC Asian Cup scheduled for January 2024 in Qatar, with Saudi Arabia aiming to add to its three Asian Cup titles, the most recent of which was in 1996.