Sunday, July 6, 2014

Costa Rica Reached Success through Sticking to Basics

“In the pantheon of World Cup upsets, it always comes down to these two: the U.S. stunning England 1-0 at the 1950 World Cup and North Korea beating Italy in 1966. For 2014 to deliver anything close to those, Costa Rica, say, would have to eliminate Spain.”
-Joshua Robinson, Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Robinson perhaps would not have believed if one was to say that 2014 FIFA World Cup would see similar upsets unfolding. Spain was not eliminated by Costa Rica for the simple fact that they did not meet each other in Brazil. However, the tiny Central American nation of 4.6 million people turned out some shocking surprises in this world cup. One wonders if Robinson did have some sixth sense of what was to happen since he mentions Costa Rica specifically, out of all so called “minnows” in Brazil 2014.

Costa Rica is a football crazy small nation of just 4.6 million people. It is more famous for its biodiversity than its football. Nevertheless the Costa Rica team, nicknamed Los Ticos, has been the best football team from Central America for the better part of the game’s history. It has qualified for four FIFA World Cups. However, the small nation was never fancied to enter the last eight. It has no football super stars and many of the team members play for unglamorous clubs. Only Bryan Ruiz at Fulham and Joel Campbell of Arsenal play for the English Premier League and nine out of the 23 member FIFA World Cup squad are playing for local clubs. Nevertheless they humbled several more glamorous teams in the tournament, which must equal to the upsets of 1950 and 1966 Robinson mentions.

Costa Rica opened the tournament with a 3-1 demolition of Uruguay at Fortaleza. But their best performance came in Recife on June 20, when they shocked the Italians 1-0. If not for some poor decisions from the referee, things might have gone even worse for the Azzurri. It was shock and awe of the first order. Next they forced England to a goalless draw. However, one could say that England forced Costa Rica to a goalless draw, given the manner in which the two teams had performed during the world cup.
Bryan Ruiz scores against Italy

In the next two rounds, it came to penalties, where Costa Rica prevailed in the Round of 16 against the Greeks but went down in the Quarterfinal against the Dutch.

Some commentators, especially from Europe, have tried to attribute this success to external factors such as climate and fans support in Brazil for the Latin American team. While these factors do play a part, they do not explain the real story behind the amazing drive by Los Ticos.

“For us, it wasn't a surprise because we know the great talent that we have. We will keep working and keep surprising the world," assistant coach Paulo Wanchope told AFP. However, the talent does not necessarily come through a star studded team.

Speaking to AFP, Costa Rica Head Coach Jorge Luis Pinto has said that his team “owes a lot to the coaching philosophy of Portugal’s ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho.” He makes clear that he gives training the priority. “I agree with Mourinho who says football is first about training methods: the conception, the practice and of course the strategy” Pinto states.

The head coach makes his team study the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents and the philosophy and training methods of successful teams in football history. Therefore, it is obvious that the success of Los Ticos has come through a thorough understanding of the game. Pinto also stresses the importance of positive thinking and drive to success against heavier odds.

Speaking further to AFP, Pinto also mentioned a valid point for any sport. “Football evolves like the world, cars, computers. We must also evolve, in order to keep up with the constant changes in our sport,” he said. This is true for tactics and the general overview. One cannot complain about the climate and the other drawbacks when one encounters playing outside their home turf. One must evolve. Also, factors like climate do not explain the appalling football played by teams like England and Portugal. For example, Portugal was unsuccessful partly because they forgot that football is a team sport. Costa Rica succeeded by remembering it.

It is this team effort, not only from the players in the middle but the whole squad and coaching staff which transformed Los Ticos to the legendary “Giant Killers” of 2014 FIFA World Cup.

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