Costa Rica’s national futsal team have developed a habit of defying the odds. Absent from the FIFA Futsal World Cup since 2000 and not ranked among the favourites to grab a place at Thailand 2012, Los Ticos did just that by winning the CONCACAF title, overcoming hosts Guatemala 3-2 in a thrilling final.
The Costa Ricans face a similar scenario at the upcoming world finals, where they will take on the tournament hosts in the opening game and with the disbelievers once again doubting their chances. Yet if anyone can pull off a surprise, they can. And as their coach Diego Solis revealed in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, his charges are thinking big as they prepare for the big event.
Solis is clearly excited about the challenge ahead. The captain of the last Costa Rica team to grace a FIFA Futsal World Cup, he is delighted to be going back, albeit in a different capacity: “The team and everyone involved in the process are thrilled to have qualified and very excited about playing the opening match. Morale couldn’t be higher and we’re working very hard. We’re going there to compete, not just to take part.”
Drawn into a tough group in the CONCACAF qualifiers in July, the Costa Ricans were not widely fancied to progress, though it was not long before they were exceeding expectations.
“We drew with Mexico in our first game, and though we didn’t play well the team clicked after that,” explained Solis. “We worked on the mental side of things because the physical and tactical sides were just fine, and that helped us to beat Cuba. We qualified for the semi-finals, where we saw off Panama, which set us up for the hardest task of all: facing the hosts at an arena with nearly 7,000 people. We had the whole of Guatemala against us, but we showed no fear and took the title.”
So what were the keys to their success? Solis’ reply is immediate: “I’ve always spoken to the players about putting the work in beforehand, about commitment and staying grounded. We can’t ever believe we’re better than anyone. We need to keep quiet and take a serious approach. That’s how went into the qualifiers, and we’ll be keeping it that way in Thailand.”
Aside from preparing his players mentally, Solis also works hard on tactics, paying particular attention to the defensive side of things.
“We build the team from the bottom up,” he revealed. “We lay the groundwork by doing a good, solid job in defence. We sit with the coaching staff and choose the right men for the job. The aim is to keep it tight, stop the opposition from getting through, and make use of space to hit them on the break.”
History in the offing
Looking ahead to their first match in Group A against the Thais, the Tico tactician is respectful but confident: “I was lucky enough to be at the World Cup draw, and I saw Thailand and I’ve got videos of them. I felt they were a little slow, although they’d only just come out of their pre-season. For one thing, they’ve got good technique and they are very well organised in defence.
“We feel, though, that if we can carry on with the work we’ve been doing and improve our concentration, finishing and attacking on the break, then we can come away with a good result.”
Solis and his Ticos see the Thailand game as the first step in what they hope will be a historic campaign: “We’re looking to go step by step. The first objective is to qualify, but we’re not going to stop there. We want to keep on progressing, and I’ve always said to the players that we have our goals in mind and that we only stop when we want to. We are not unbeatable, but we that doesn’t mean to say we should set limits for ourselves.”
Success for Los Ticos would mean so much, and not just for the team itself. The sport of futsal is very popular in Costa Rica, though much still needs to be done to develop the game, as Solis acknowledged: “Costa Rica has had a league competition made up of various divisions since 1982, but it’s an amateur sport here and no one makes a living from it. We need to take a step forward and make it semi-professional at the very least. We’re also working to get private enterprise involved.
“Qualifying for the World Cup is a big step in itself and a good performance there could make all the difference. That’s what we’re working towards.”