Costa Rica were the surprise package of the 2014 World Cup. They also threatened to upset the applecart.
Only once in tournament history had a CONCACAF nation progressed into the semi-final round before the Ticos nearly replicated the feat on Saturday. And that was back in 1930—when all the United States had to do was beat Belgium and Paraguay before being thumped by Argentina.
Costa Rica’s path was rather more difficult but not one that seemed to intimidate them in any way.
Following their 3-1, come-from-behind win over Uruguay in their Group D opener, manager Jorge Luis Pinto offered, according to The Guardian, that his side would repeat the performance against Italy.
“Yes, we are in the Group of Death,” he remarked, referring to rivals Uruguay, Italy and England. “And that’s because the four of us are very good.”
Ten days later, having finished atop the bracket with an undefeated record, Pinto was even more immodest, telling reporters that “it wasn’t the death group after all. At least not for us.”
He added, as per ESPN FC, “People started believing after the game against Italy (a 1-0 win). We will have to keep fighting. Whatever happens we are willing to fight.”
And fight they did.
They fought their way through 120 minutes and a penalty shootout against Greece; they fought through normal and extra time against the Netherlands before substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul put an end to their Cinderella story.
Even in defeat, Pinto kept on fighting, telling reporters on Saturday that the refereeing had “not been very good,” according to Goal.
But, he went on, his side had come to Brazil and faced some of world football’s most established powers. And they hadn’t rolled over. They had met them “at their level.”
In so doing, Costa Rica once again dispelled the notion that only high-profile, Europe-based players can make an impact on the biggest stage. While Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas was perhaps the most important player in the squad, key outfielders such as Giancarlo Gonzalez, Michael Umana and Yeltsin Tejeda all left North American clubs to contest the World Cup.
“It just goes to show that there are other parts of the world that are providing top-quality players who have the pride and passion and technical ability to succeed without having to go and play in Europe or the Premier League,” wrote Bleacher Report columnist Stan Collymore following Saturday’s quarter-final.
Gonzalez, who smothered Mario Balotelli in Recife, would attest to that.
“Everybody knows that many of us were not known before this World Cup,” he told The Guardian last month, just after the Uruguay win. “We will let the world know we are here.”
The world found out, and several of its footballing powers were vanquished along the way.
For all the surprises Costa Rica delivered over the three weeks they graced the World Cup, they produced as many scares. At least for the establishment.
And you can bet they’re not about to apologise for that.