San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

World Cup Fever Strikes Nation

Ask any Tico or Tica his or her plans for June 9 and you’ll likely get a laugh – who would think of doing anything else but watching the National Soccer Team take on Germany in the opening game of the World Cup?

Costa Ricans from the Pacific Puntarenas province to the Caribbean’s Limón will cheer on their team, La Selección, as it plays before the world, perhaps with extra enthusiastic support in light of the team’s losses this week in the World Cup practice games. (It lost to the Ukraine 4-0 Sunday and to the CzechRepublic 1-0 Tuesday.)

Additionally, a solid representation of die-hard fans will make the journey to Germany to paint their faces red, white and blue and proudly wave the Costa Rican flag from the stands. Even President Oscar Arias plans to cross the Atlantic to watch the game.

Felipe García, 27, told the Tico Times he didn’t miss a qualifying game leading up to Costa Rica earning its ticket to the World Cup, and he promised himself he wouldn’t miss the games in Germany, either.He, along with 450 other Ticos, leaves this week for a two-week trip to Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland organized by creditcard-processing company Credomatic.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said García, an economist from Heredia, north of San  osé. “Whatever it cost me, I knew I had to be there at the games in Germany; the world’s eyes will be on Costa Rica.” In his suitcase will be a giant Costa Rican flag and three La Selección T-shirts – one for each of the team’s scheduled games.

For Javier Olivares, 28, a topographer from Orotina, northwest of San José, the big game wasn’t the only draw to Germany – he and a friend plan to spend a month after- ward traveling in Italy, France, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Holland.

“I’m a fan, but I’m not a total fanatic like other Costa Ricans. I’m taking advantage of La Selección being in Germany to see Europe,” Olivares said.

Youth in on the Action

Some of La Selección’s youngest fans are also traveling to Germany to cheer on the team and participate in youth soccer events in celebration of the World Cup.

Young players from three teams are headed to Germany next week, including 13 boys and girls under age 18 who play with Fútbol por la Vida, a nonprofit organization that offers children in high-risk situations the chance to attend a soccer school and also receive counseling from social workers and

psychologists (TT, April 28). The team will play alongside 205 others in the “Fair Game for a Fair Life” tournament, sponsored by the German government.

Vive Fútbol, a nonprofit working in San José’s Hatillo neighborhood, is also sending a group of eight players to Berlin for a game hosted by the organization Streetfootballworld to take on “street players” from 24 other countries. Like Fútbol por la Vida,Vive Fútbol uses soccer to help children in highrisk situations, focusing on keeping them in school, explained Vive Fútbol director Olman Jaenstchke.

“This trip can reinforce our efforts to keep these kids in school,” Jaenstchke said. “They’re going to be caught up in admiring all the players and hopefully will see that most of them have received an education.”

Additionally, 12 players from St. PaulSchool, in Alajuela, northwest of San José, will play in the Junior Soccer Cup in Vellmar, Germany, sponsored by that town’s municipality.

“We’re going to be feeling the same thing as La Sele – it’s very exciting,” said St. Paul’s player Walter Villalobos, 12. “We’re going to do our best to show the world that Costa Rica is not just a small country.”

Josue Chávez of Fútbol for la Vida said he has already begun learning some soccer terms in German, and he, along with all the young players, received a German-Spanish handbook at a farewell ceremony hosted by the German Embassy at the organization’s San José headquarters Tuesday.

“I’m excited about learning another language and seeing another country and what they do for fun,” Chávez said.

At the ceremony, sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Bayer, German Ambassador Volkner Fink told The Tico Times he hopes the young players will enjoy his beautiful country and learn what’s behind its love for soccer.

“Part of the experience for these young people is learning the values of the game, like fair play and having a peaceful encounter; these are so important in the world today,” he said.

Those who can’t make the trip to Germany will no doubt be glued to the television – many businesses have given their employees the morning off to watch the game, scheduled for 10 a.m. local time, and the government has decided to allow all public workers to have the morning off, according to Casa Presidencial spokeswoman Eugenio Sancho.

School children will enjoy a half-day holiday, as the Ministry of Public Education (MEP) has declared there will be no school that morning, and several private schools, including BlueValleySchool in Escazú, west of San José, have followed suit.

Even some Ticos who have to work that morning will be able to have one eye on the game; several companies will have televisions available for their employees on the big day, including the call center Sykes, in Heredia, north of San José, which plans to install 20 plasma screen TVs, according to the daily La República.

“The screens will not have sound – the idea is that employees can check on the game,” said Sykes regional communications director Arturo Barboza.

Proctor & Gamble’s Global Business Services, in Santa Ana west of San José, plans to offer two auditoriums, which hold 650 people, for the viewing of the game, according to the weekly El Financiero.

Though many Ticos would agree it’s only fair that everyone have a chance to watch their team, some, including the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP) and Labor Minister Francisco Morales, worry that giving workers the morning off sends a bad message.

“The country is going to be paralyzed,” Morales told La República.

More than one business, however, is out to prove that paralysis won’t be the case with cash flow by profiting from the enthusiasm generated by the World Cup.

Ads for Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “bucket mundialista” say it will hit the spot during the game, and others, such as Denny’s restaurant and Aurola Casino, in San José, are tempting fans with food, big screens and raffles.

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