Northern Ireland finished their end-of-season Central American tour with a 3-0 loss to World Cup-bound Costa Rica in a game where Arsenal’s Joel Campbell shone.
Only Germany and Croatia had previously beaten Michael O’Neill’s men by more than one goal since November 2014, but Los Ticos scored twice from Campbell’s corners, with the striker registering himself in-between, ahead of their friendly with England on Thursday.
O’Neill again took the opportunity to look at some of his younger players and will hope the 10-day trip, which included a 0-0 draw with Panama, will be beneficial for the forthcoming Nations League campaign.
Los Ticos, World Cup quarter-finalists four years ago, were always likely to represent a step up in class from Panama and that was epitomised by Keylor Navas’ appearance in their line-up eight days after winning a third successive Champions League with Real Madrid.
Navas received a golden glove trophy prior to kick-off in San Jose and every touch he had was emphatically cheered, though he saw too little of the ball from a Northern Ireland perspective.
Liam Boyce did have a chance to test Navas with an early attempt that he stabbed wide following a Josh Magennis flick-on.
At the other end, Johan Venegas and Campbell were causing the Northern Irish defence problems and the two combined for the latter to smash a first-time try harmlessly wide.
O’Neill’s side were being tested by a series of crosses and they were served a warning of Los Ticos’ set-piece threat when birthday boy Oscar Duarte headed wide from a corner.
Northern Ireland normally practice set-pieces on the morning of an evening game, but an 11am kick-off meant that was not possible, and, after a 27th-minute drinks break, it was via a dead-ball situation that they fell behind.
Campbell’s near-post corner sucked in four Northern Ireland defenders to Giancarlo Gonzalez and his flick-on was reached by an unmarked Venegas, who only had to help the ball home from virtually on the line.
The forward threatened again straight after and it needed a smart save from Trevor Carson to deny him a second.
Stuart Dallas drilled a low shot at Navas as Northern Ireland attempted to hit back, and that was the Real keeper’s final meaningful act before he came off to more rapturous applause in the 34th minute.
Campbell, whose Arsenal career has been littered with loan spells away from the Emirates, then nearly beat Carson with a curling effort that he just failed to bend inside the post.
The 25-year-old has just completed his sixth loan away from the Gunners and with a couple of loose touches showed why perhaps he was not in Arsene Wenger’s plans.
However, less than a minute into the second half, he found the net by sweeping home a first-time finish past Carson after Venegas had left Daniel Colindres’ pass for him.
Carson might have been disappointed with that, but Northern Ireland were indebted to him moments later when another Campbell try was parried away.
Yet a third Costa Rican goal would arrive with 22 minutes to go as another near-post corner from Campbell was headed home by substitute Francisco Calvo.
O’Neill used the second half to bring on some substitutes who did not feature in Panama, including Conor McLaughlin, Luke McCullough and debutant goalkeeper Conor Hazard.
And Hazard was able to keep a clean sheet for the 16 minutes he was on pitch, with Campbell volleying wide late on.