Ticos fancy their chances against Holland
5 July ~ The Ticos were a surprise package at Italia 90, making it through to the last 16 from a group that also contained Brazil, Scotland and Sweden, but this time people in Costa Rica are celebrating like never before: "We can't hide it, it's an incredible feeling," said president Luis Guillermo Solís. As with any Concacaf team earning a place at the World Cup expectations were not high, and results in the run-up to the tournament were hardly encouraging. Which means every game in Brazil has been a baffling delight for Costa Ricans.
Costa Rica is a Central American hub of migration. Immigrants tend to end up in the precarios, slums that are home to legions of Nicaraguans, Colombians and Dominicans. Almost all the Costa Rican team are migrants. Óscar Duarte is Nicaraguan, but moved to Costa Rica at the age of five; goalkeeper Keylor Navas was raised by his grandparents while his parents went to seek better opportunities in the US. The chairman of the Costa Rican FA, Eduardo Li, is of Chinese descent, Joel Campbell is Afro-Caribbean. The team's Colombian coach, Jorge Luis Pinto, has been a migrant all his life: Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and finally Costa Rica.
La Sele feature nine players in the starting XI who now live abroad. This may be because they prefer not to play in a country where professional footballers' wages are capped. Pinto, for example, is one of the three lowest-paid managers at the World Cup. His $380,000 (£221,000) salary means he earns more only than the $330,000 and $240,000 paid to the managers of Cameroon and Ghana respectively, and way below the $9.5 million Fabio Capello made for his failed tournament efforts with Russia.
On matchday in Costa Rica, the fans go crazy. Or disappear – whenever the team plays, the streets are deserted. In a country with no army, it looks for all the world like a curfew, and people's faith in the team shows the almost religious approach to football that bubbles away throughout Central America.
And now they face Holland. Do Costa Rica have any chance? Alvaro Murillo, a journalist at the Costa Rican newspaper Diario La Nación, said: "Did we have any chance against Uruguay, or against Italy, or England, or Greece? This is no different." FIFA's comparison chart may show Holland's statistical advantage, but Murillo's question sums up the sense of assurance that goes with being the unknown quantity. There's confidence on the pitch, and a twinkle in the eye of every Tico watching. Surya Lecona Moctezuma, translated by Ruth Clarke
Surya Lecona Moctezuma is a Mexican journalist active throughout Central America. Her piece "Costa Nica: The Latin American Dream", about football, guns and immigration in Costa Rica, is featured in The Football Crónicas, a collection of translated writing from Latin America published by Ragpicker Press