San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The $100 million gift debuts, National Stadium has near-flawless inaugural week

Deemed the “Jewel of La Sabana,” Costa Rica’s new National Stadium opened last Saturday with a colorful display of binational pride and camaraderie between Costa Rica and China. The 35,000 fans in attendance were treated to a night of rousing fireworks, festive music and dance and a spirited 2-2 draw between the two 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 kicked off at 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 delivered a speech about the significance of the inauguration and the progressive step that the relationship with China, the world’s second largest economy, means for Costa Rica.

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 forge 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 second term of four years in office from 2006-2010, that Costa Rica shouldn’t fear the change the new relationship will bring, and that “some countries are slaves to their own past.” He also referred to the bilateral relationship as a “young bonsai tree,” and a “bridge spanning the Pacific.”

Arias’ speech was followed by words from Chen Changzhi, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and current Costa Rican 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 former President Arias, and above all, as the reason to assume as a nation the responsibility to grow to the height of this modern coliseum.”

Costa Rica fan

Game Face: A fan of Costa Rica’s national team has his face painted before the friendly between Costa Rica and Argentina at the new National Stadium in La Sabana on Tuesday.

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 performances.

Next the soccer teams took the field for the stadium’s first official sporting event, which 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.

Despite fears that opening night would be a logistical nightmare, most of the event went smoothly, parking plans worked well, buses shuttled thousands of attendees to the stadium, and police and stadium officials worked well together.

The only concern within the stadium was the absence of a game clock, leaving fans in the dark about 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.

San José municipal officials said that workers collected 50 tons of trash from La Sabana Park after Saturday’s event.

City workers and employees from a private company removed an additional 20 tons of garbage from routes along the International Marathon held Sunday along Paseo Colón, Second Avenue, La Sabana and Rohrmoser.

On Tuesday, Costa Rica took on international powerhouse Argentina, who was playing without its star, Lionel Messi. Both teams finished the match scoreless.

 “When you play an opponent like Argentina, you have to elevate your level of play in order to compete with them. We were able to do that tonight,” said Costa Rica coach Ricardo La Volpe.

Inauguration events continue through April 10.

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