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.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game