Costa Rica was, according to some online betting odds, the least-likely team to take the World Cup (1,500-1, by one account). Yesterday, it became clear the Ticos don’t get the chance to prove them wrong.
After a stronger-than-expected showing (albeit a 4-2 loss) against soccer superpower and host team Germany in the June 9 opening match of the World Cup, the National Soccer Team stirred hopes that this little Central American country might make it past the first round of the world’s most important soccer tournament for only its second time ever.
Ecuador, however, crushed those hopes with yesterday’s 3-0 win over Costa Rica’s Selección Nacional – better known as La Sele – proving that not only does the South American rival export more bananas to Europe than Costa Rica, it also exports more goals. (Ecuador beat Poland 2-0 June 9 in the second game of the tournament.) Costa Rica will play Poland Tuesday at 8 a.m. for the third-place ranking in their bracket; however, only the top two teams (Germany and Ecuador) will advance to the next round.
In the opening game – watched by an estimated 1.5 billion viewers worldwide, according to German broadcaster ZDF – pundits had predicted Costa Rica would be buried under a barrage of German goals.
Costa Rica, however, outdid expectations by scoring twice and holding Germany to only four points. La Sele played a fast-paced and exciting game, contributing to what turned out to be the highest-scoring opening game in the World Cup’s 74-year-history.
Costa Ricans of every stripe came together to watch the match, putting all else on hold, and many took pride in their team’s presentation.
“We, with what little we have, are showing the world what we can do,” said Antony Mora, 26, who watched the game in San Pedro, east of San José. “It’s total happiness for us knowing that the whole world is watching Costa Rica, and that we gave a dignified performance.”
After yesterday’s loss, however, the overwhelming sentiment was disappointment.
“We expected a little more from Costa Rica,” said Esteban Garro, 21, who watched the game at the Soda Joyca restaurant in downtown San José. Garro added that qualification for the World Cup “was nice, but it wasn’t worth anything.”
“They need to be sent to Coto Brus (in the Southern Zone) to pick coffee, so they feel ashamed” said René Laurent, the owner of the Helafruitt fruit-salad shop next to Soda Joyca. “I think the presence of the fans over there, with their happiness and attitude, did more for Costa Rica than the Selección.”
Costa Rica has made it to the World Cup – which is held every four years – only twice before: in 2002, when it was hosted by South Korea, and in 1990, when it was in Italy. Only in Italy did La Sele advance to the second round, where it lost to Czechoslovakia, 4-1.
Leading up to last Friday’s opening game of the World Cup, La Sele concerned many of its fans and followers with a series of disappointing losses in warm-up matches. After beating a team of regional players and former pros from Germany, Costa Rica lost to the Czech Republic, Ukraine, a German side team made up of 2nd, 3rd and 4th division players, and a Spanish Catalonia select team.
That, however, was all forgotten by the end of the opening match against Germany, Costa Rica’s best loss ever.
The match, which was Costa Rica’s luck of- the-draw result of a lottery, was arguably the most important in the country’s history. For La Sele, it meant playing in front of the world, as the opening match is one of the most-watched games in the World Cup.
For others, it meant an opportunity to promote the country as a destination for tourism and investment. President Oscar Arias left for a European tour to coincide with the game where he lobbied to bring more investment and tourism to Costa Rica (TT, June 9). The Costa Rican Tourism Institute planned to spend $6.7 million on
advertising in Germany and Costa Rica throughout the World Cup and the Foreign Relations Ministry created a three-minute video promoting Costa Rica’s various tourism destinations. Meanwhile, the Foreign Trade Promotion Office (PROCOMER) launched a 20-day exhibition of Costa Rican business and culture at the Forum Deutschen Museum in Munich, Germany (TT, May 26).
On the morning of the opening game, the country was practically paralyzed as students, public employees and many private sector workers got the morning off in honor of the match. Families and fans gathered in homes, schools, bars and restaurants, leaving streets empty and the normally bustling and busy San José looking like a ghost town.
Empty, that is, except for Avenida Central, in the center of the Costa Rican capital, where hundreds, if not thousands of Ticos in red, blue and white gathered to watch the game in front of a giant outdoor screen. In the midst of the throngs, a transvestite dressed in thigh-high stockings and the colors of La Sele watched in suspense alongside two policemen. Another man stood out in a Tricolor Superman costume, while nearby, kids hung like monkeys off of lampposts.
At the German Club in Los Yoses, east of San José, the German Ambassador to Costa Rica, Volkner Fink, joined an international mix of spectators that included many Germans and Ticos who came together to watch the game over a German breakfast of Sauerkraut and sausage.
In the sixth minute of the opener, Germany fans exploded in cheers as German Philipp Lahm sunk the first goal of the game.
The fear that the quick goal undoubtedly seeded in La Sele’s fans was replaced another six minutes later with jubilation as Costa Rica’s top-scoring Paulo Cesar Wanchope, a forward from the Heredia First Division team Club Sport Herediano who has played for various teams in Europe, including Manchester City, and scored 45 goals in 68 international matches, marked the first point for the Ticos. Germany scored once more by the end of the first half.
“I must say, I’m incredibly content with the beginning of the world championship, because it couldn’t have been better,” Fink told The Tico Times during halftime. “I mean, three goals in the first couple minutes – what more could one expect?”
The game was an opportunity for Germans and Ticos to unite in other locations around Costa Rica as well. In the Casa de la Cultura in Ciudad Colón, west of San José, the game was projected on a giant screen to an audience of 100, including about 30 Germans.
“We wanted to host a cultural exchange, so we decided to invite (members of) the local German colony,” said Gilberto Monge, one of the organizers of the event.
At the Colegio Humboldt German School, in the western San José district of Pavas, many students supported both teams, and expressed satisfaction with the result of the game.
“It was very good because Costa Rica was good, they got two goals, but Germany still won,” said Antar Drews, 9. Drews had a black, red and yellow German flag draped over his shoulders and another painted on his face.
Those not lucky enough to escape their workplaces to watch the game were not to be deterred. Commentators’ voices could be heard clearly throughout the streets, emanating from radios and televisions in shoe stores, bakeries and many other locations.
Women at the cosmetic counter at the Carrion department store screamed in excitement and disappointment as the scores advanced. One man on crutches had a radio hanging around his neck, and other fansgathered around TVs nestled on sidewalk newspaper and fruit stands.
At the World Cup Stadium in Munich, La Sele played to the cheers of an estimated 7,000 Ticos who traveled to Germany from Costa Rica and other nations to watch the World Cup games, according to an estimate from the Costa Rican consul in Germany.
In the United States, Carmen Bermúdez, Costa Rica’s honorary consul in Tuscon, Arizona, went out of her way to ensure that Ticos being held at the Florence federal detention center awaiting deportation wouldbe able to watch the opening match.
As the game came to a close, Ticos at the Fuzion Café in the San Pedro Mall, east of downtown San José, paid their bills with smiles before filing out into a sunny day. The nearby, and empty, Rotonda de la Hispanidad traffic roundabout, which, by tradition, would have been filled with tumultuous fans had La Sele triumphed, soon returned to normal – except for one group of six hardcore aficionados waving a Costa Rican flag, who remained to celebrate what they obviously saw as a victory in Costa Rica’s loss.
Tico Times staffers María Gabriela Díaz, Adam Foxman, Katherine Stanley and Bryon Wells contributed to this article.