Costa Rica burst on to the global scene in 1990, when Bora Milutinovic not only led the Central American upstarts to their first FIFA World Cup™, but pushed them all the way to the Round of 16. Since those heady days on Italian soil, Los Ticos have established themselves as the ‘third’ team in North, Central America and the Caribbean, behind regional superpowers USA and Mexico.
Costa Rica followed up their memorable debut on the biggest stage with FIFA World Cup returns in 2002 and 2006. That, however, is where flirtations with global recognition stalled for the record six-time Central American champions. The Costa Ricans famously missed out on South Africa 2010, pipped dramatically by neighbours Honduras for an automatic passage, before being edged out by Uruguay in an inter-continental play-off.
But things are looking rosy again for the red-clad side, who, under the management of Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto, are good bets to reach Brazil 2014. Fine recent form has also seen the CONCACAF Gold Cup 2002 runners-up soaring up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Indeed, between June and July of 2012, the side's strength in the regional semi-final round of qualifying has seen them make an eight-place leap to 57th.
There’s a positive atmosphere in the squad. We’re ready, we are dreaming of the World Cup in 2014 in Brazil.
This move takes them to fourth place in the CONCACAF standings, just behind Mexico, USA and surprise packages Panama, who represent the next phase of football development in the Central America sub-region.
Costa Rica began their qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014 with a 2-2 draw against neighbours El Salvador, who had won all of their games in the previous round. Though the result was not exactly what the fans were hoping for in San Jose, it was far better than the slim 1-0 loss they suffered a few weeks earlier to Guatemala. Next time out, things went far better for Los Ticos as they hammered group minnows Guyana 4-0.
Saborio, Campbell spearhead resurgence
The Costa Ricans now sit second in Group B on four points, two behind rampaging favourites Mexico. The top two finishers from each section move through to the final round, six-team hexagonal, so Pinto's men look to be in good shape. Another reason for positive thinking in the camp, and among the football-mad fans in the country’s barrooms and cafes, is the form of their strike tandem of Joel Campbell and Alvaro Saborio, who between them have scored all four goals in qualifying.
“We’re ready, we are dreaming of the World Cup in 2014 in Brazil,” said Campbell, 20, who was recently loaned out from London giants Arsenal to Spanish top-flight newcomers Real Betis.
“All four teams [in Group B] are battling to qualify, every game is going to be tough, and I wouldn’t rule out any surprises. I think that Central American sides respect us and we have to prove we deserve it. And of course Mexico are very strong opponents, but I think they can be beaten.”
Campbell is looking like the hottest attacking prospect to come out of Costa Rica since the great Paulo Wanchope, who had a club career in England’s upper reaches and led the lines for the national team at the 2002 and 2006 world finals. For now, though, Campbell plays second fiddle to Saborio, of Major League Soccer outfit Real Salt Lake, for whom is their all-time leading marksman. The 30-year-old has scored four goals in the last two qualifiers, including a hat-trick in the dismantling of Guyana, to take him to the top of the CONCACAF qualifying scoring chart.
The upwardly mobile Ticos will be keen to keep up the form in their next outings on the road to Brazil, but they will be up against some decidedly stiffer competition this September when they face mighty Mexico, champions of CONCACAF, twice on the trot. “The public know that we want to get back to the World Cup as much as they do, and there’s a positive atmosphere in the squad,” concluded Campbell, who seems to epitomise the bubbling attitude pervading Costa Rican football at present.