World Cup 2014: Costa Rica stand tall as the little team that grew up fast

 

Recife

It was foretold that England’s was a group of death but nobody imagined the identity of the killer. When the draw was made, a bluffers’ guide went something like this: England would face Italy and Mario Balotelli, Uruguay and Luis Suarez, and Costa Rica. For all the attention paid to the last on that list it might as well have been Costa Coffee.

If all went well, the final match in Belo Horizonte would be a dead one, with only the positions of the first and second-placed teams in Group D to decide.

It is indeed a dead rubber but not in the way Roy Hodgson could possibly have imagined. Tuesday’s game will decide whether Costa Rica, who beat first Uruguay and then Italy comfortably, will finish first or second. The only choice left for Hodgson’s players is what to order for an inflight meal on the plane back from Rio de Janeiro.

“It is a big surprise for the world,” said Paulo Wanchope (right), who once led Manchester City’s attack before the oil money arrived, and is now Costa Rica’s assistant manager. “I understand the reality is that nobody expected usto go through and I know for sure that some of these players will want to impress against England and end up in the Premier League.

 

“Sometimes, when you are a player, you don’t realise what you have done. I don’t think it will have sunk in yet. The people back in Costa Rica will be going crazy. There is nobody at work so everybody will be going mad.”

When Costa Rica last appeared at a World Cup, Wanchope gave them a fleeting taste of glory, scoring an equaliser against the hosts, Germany, in a match Jürgen Klinsmann’s reborn side won 4-2.

They did not escape their group, something they had only done once before.  That was in 1990  when, as now, Costa Rica were thrown into a group where they were expected to be chewed up by Brazil, Scotland and Sweden. They beat the last two and lost to Brazil by a single goal.

Their hero was their keeper, Luis Conejo, who was injured just before they faced Czechoslovakia in the knockout stages. Despite Conejo’s prayers, he was not fit and Costa Rica were shot to bits in Bologna.

Once again their success was built on their goalkeeper. For all the attention focused on Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz, whose goals in Fortaleza and Recife were beautifully taken, it was Keylor Navas who was the key.

Certainly, if you had to pick a moment when the script changed for Costa Rica, it was just before half-time in the Castelao when a speculative shot from Diego Forlan struck Oscar Duarte’s boot and seemed to be looping into the Costa Rican net before Navas, back-peddling, tipped it over. Had that gone in, Uruguay’s lead would have been two goals. Curiously, both Conejo and Navas played for minor teams in  La Liga, one for Albacete, the other for Levante, but Navas may yet reach the Premier League.

“The thing about this group is that we have 15 or 16 of them playing in Europe,” Wanchope said. “Christian Bolanos has played in the Champions’ League [with Copenhagen], Joel Campbell has done so for Olympiakos and Navas is the best keeper in Spain.”

This has also been something of a triumph for Costa Rica’s manager, Jorge Pinto. He was a strange choice since he had managed the country unsuccessfully before and is a Colombian who had failed to take his country to the previous World Cup in South Africa.

“I changed many things,” he reflected. “We certainly changed our tactics. We press harder, we block people off and counter-attack when we can. It is true that we do try to score from corners and free-kicks. Our training is very hard and we always work with a ball – and that has had a positive impact for us.”

Costa Rica, the team and its people, are known as Los Ticos, which is a diminutive. Their language is full of “little”. They will offer you a “little drink” or throw a “little party”. But today, Costa Rica stand tall.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future