San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Colorful opening for Costa Rica’s National Stadium inauguration

The new National Stadium opened Saturday evening with a colorful display of binational pride and camaraderie between Costa Rica and China. Deemed “the jewel of La Sabana,” the 35,000 fans in attendance were treated to a night of rousing fireworks, cultural song and dance and a spirited 2-2 draw between the countries’ national soccer teams. The $100 million National Stadium was a gift from the government of China and was constructed by Chinese laborers during the last two years.

Festivities began around 6 p.m. with government representatives from the two countries addressing the crowd on a stage decorated with giant Costa Rican and Chinese flags waving gently behind them. Amid a mixture of jeers and applause, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias spoke to the crowd about the significance of the inauguration and the progressive step that the relationship with China, the world’s second largest economy, means for the country. In 2007, Arias severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan to establish ties with China.

“Countries have to grow and mature,” Arias said of his government’s decision to create diplomatic relations with China. “And so, like a mother understands that her son can’t wear the same shoes that he was wearing 10 years ago, we should accept that there is clothing that we shouldn’t continue to wear. Sooner or later all countries have to wear long pants.”

Arias also said, in his allegorical oratory style that marked his four years in office from 2006-2010, that Costa Rica shouldn’t fear the change that this relationship will bring and that “some countries are slaves to their own past.” He also referred to the bilateral relationship as a “young Bonzai tree” and that it creates a “bridge over the Pacific Ocean.”

Arias’s speech was followed by words from Chen Changzhi, the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and a speech from President Laura Chinchilla, who praised Arias and also trumpeted the benefits of the relationship with China.

“This impressive stadium in La Sabana stands as a permanent reminder of our gratitude to the people of China,” Chinchilla said. “(It also serves) as recognition for our ex-President Arias and, above all, as the reason to assume, as a nation, the responsibility to grow to the height of this modern coliseum.”

Chinchilla’s speech was followed by a performance of traditional Costa Rican dance, a video montage of Costa Rican sports accomplishments, and several traditional Chinese dance and song performances.

A little after 8 p.m., the national soccer teams of each country took the field for the first-ever match in the National Stadium. Costa Rica dominated for most of the first half. Forward Alvaro Saborio scored the first goal in stadium history when he found himself open on the left side of the box and pushed a low shot into the far corner of the net. Saborio’s goal was followed by a frenzied celebration in the stadium and explosive fireworks into the night sky.

Seven minutes later, just before the halftime whistle, Randall Brenes tapped in a rebound to give Costa Rica a 2-0 advantage at the break.

In the first minute of the second half, Gao Lin cut the Tico lead in half when he rose above Costa Rican defenders to head the ball into the side netting. In the final minute of the game, a pass split the Costa Rican defense and found Lin alone on the right side of the box. Lin struck a low shot through the legs of Costa Rican goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado to force the draw.

The organization of the event seemed to go off without a hitch, as parking was controlled, bus routes to the stadium were fluid and police and stadium officials were well-coordinated in and around the stadium. The only concern within the stadium was the absence of a game clock, leaving fans in the dark on the game time. Outside the stadium, a lack of trash receptacles resulted in an excessive pile-up of trash along the streets of La Sabana and around the stadium.

On Sunday, a marathon will be run that finishes in the National Stadium and on Tuesday, Argentina comes to town to play Costa Rica in a friendly between the two Latin American rivals. Argentina tied with the U.S. 1-1 on Saturday night in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Argentina star Lionel Messi played in the match Saturday night, which is a good sign for Costa Rican fans hoping to see the star of the Spanish club Barcelona in action. Inauguration events will continue until April 10.

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