While the national men’s soccer team, La Sele, plods along the road to the next World Cup in South Africa, just under two years away, one Costa Rican team will be going to a world finals next month.
Costa Rica’s U-17 women’s team is heading to the kiwi nation as one of 16 teams taking part in the inaugural FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup.
The Ticas surprised everyone by beating tipped favorites Canada in the CONCACAF semifinals in late July in Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for New Zealand, off goals by Fabiola Sánchez and captain Katherine Alvarado five minutes later. The U.S. eventually won the tournament and will be going as well. Canada later claimed the last qualifying slot for New Zealand by beating Mexico in the third-place match.
Head Coach Juan Diego Quesada, 47, is in his second year with the team, the first women’s selection he’s headed. After coaching boys’ teams for 20 years, he’s not looking to go back, either. “The women are more responsible (than the men), more disciplined, more organized. So, I’d say, given that, it’s easier. … They’re more responsive.”
The girls, he says, are excited, but also nervous because only 21 players of the 25 who are currently training will make it on the travel roster for New Zealand. The selections will be announced early next month.
Sánchez, 15, and winger Mariela Campos, 17, are two of those eager players. Hailing from Heredia and Alajuela, respectively, both girls have played for the national U-17 team for the last two years.
Aside from studying their first-round opponents, the girls, who train in matching jerseys and stud earrings, are focusing primarily on strength and speed in training, and they said they were all taking notes watching the women’s soccer games during the recent Beijing Olympics.
Does it bother them that the national men’s team gets much more attention? “Kind of,” says Campos. Some fans, says Sánchez, have to be encouraged to support the team but, on the other end, there are plenty of fans who are eager to support the girls.
The tournament will run from Oct. 28 through Nov. 16. Games will be played in the cities of Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton and Wellington. The Ticas will battle their first round matches in Group B against Germany on Oct. 29, North Korea on Nov. 1, and Ghana on Nov. 4. The Germans, all of whose national teams seem to be the ones to beat these days, are the favorites to win Group B.
But you wouldn’t know that talking to Campos and Sánchez. The normal halting insecurities of these teenage girls only falter when asked about their team’s prospects in New Zealand. Will they win it all? Campos interrupts before the question can be finished: “Yes.”