Few players have been making as much of a difference for Costa Rica of late as Celso Borges. Even at the most testing of times, the midfielder has emerged as chief orchestrator of a side now starting to dream big at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Still only 25, Borges has been taking on more and more responsibility match after match, helping Los Ticos advance into the knockout phase.
Above all, his powerful physical presence and excellent reading of the game have served Costa Rica superbly, with his team successfully navigating their way out of the group stage. They now face a quarter-final meeting with Honduras, and Borges knows he will need to be at his influential best once again to keep their campaign alive.
Ahead of Sunday's showdown, FIFA.com spoke exclusively with the talented playmaker, who plies his trade with AIK in Sweden.
A solid start
"We've been doing well so far at this Gold Cup," explained the man nicknamed Celsinho, first capped in 2006. "The team has achieved its initial goal of reaching the quarter-finals. We've improved since our first game, and that's why we'll go into the quarter-final with Honduras high on confidence."
We believe in ourselves and the work we're doing a lot.
Los Ticos picked up six points in Group C, overcoming Cuba and Belize and only experiencing defeat against USA, the tournament hosts and a powerhouse of the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone. In short, there was plenty for Borges and his team-mates to be positive about.
"We controlled our games well, with pretty good possession of the ball," he said. "That allowed us to get more touches on the ball in the final quarter of the pitch, which had a clear impact on the quality of our attacking play. It's very good for the team in general and for me in particular."
'We believe in ourselves'
Some might argue that Costa Rica were clear favourites against Cuba and Belize, at least on paper, but that will certainly not be the case against Honduras. "Whichever side wants to win it more will come out on top," said Borges, who has struck 11 times for his country. "We've seen that during previous editions of the tournament. It's often the team that's more motivated that prevails. We need to have that attitude on the pitch. If we want to go through, we're going to have to fight. It's not going to be easy.
"We believe in ourselves and the work we're doing a lot," he added. "Our preparation for this competition was long, but we now have confidence in our potential – we just have to show it on the pitch. There's no use in being confident in your head if you can't translate that onto the pitch. If we manage to handle all those factors, I think we have a good chance of reaching the semi-finals."
The stakes are undoubtedly high, particularly considering that the winners of this year's edition will enter a play-off with the winners of the 2015 edition of the competition for a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017. In addition, there could be no better way for Costa Rica to warm up for their next outings in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying.
"These games are excellent practice, and they help us get to know each other better. I hope we'll be able to celebrate the end of the year by tying up our qualification. It's always been my dream [to play in a World Cup]. I hope we can make it. We can't stop thinking about it and it'll take a lot of work. The matches we have coming up will be very tough, but we'll be battling to get there."