August 18 was a night of mixed emotions for Costa Rican football. On the one hand, there was the euphoria that greeted the U-23 side's qualification for the quarter-finals of the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Greece, while on the other, there was the bitter disappointment of the senior side's 5-2 defeat by Honduras in the CONCACAF qualifiers for Germany 2006. Just hours before the Ticos prepare to do battle with Argentina, FIFA.com caught up with Carlos Hernández, one of the key members of the Olympic team, and talked to him about the fluctuating fortunes of his country's football.
Costa Rica's Olympic squad were eagerly awaiting news on their senior side's fortunes back home on FIFA World Cup™ duty. That is understandable when you consider that many of the young players vying for a medal in Athens have high hopes of playing a part in Germany 2006. As it turned out, the result was not what they had expected. "I would be lying if I said we weren't disappointed with the result, but we can't afford to let ourselves be distracted by it," Hernández told FIFA.com in Patras
"Things here have not changed," he insists. "We were rooting for the lads back home, but their result in no way affects our determination to do well here. They do their job, and we do ours. That's how it is. Sure, we're all pulling for the same side, but our job is to stay focused on Argentina," he added.
On the subject of Argentina, Hernández hopes the Ticos can cause another surprise on Saturday in a tournament that has not been short on upsets. "At this stage I don't know if you can talk about favourites, though you could say Argentina are strong candidates. For us, it's important to play against a great team like Argentina with all their quality players. Having said that, we are extremely motivated to go further in this tournament and would dearly love to win something," said the Alajuelense midfielder.
In their opening two games in the Olympics, Costa Rica came out playing a very cautious brand of football. While showing excellent technique, they distinctly lacked a cutting edge. With just one goal to their credit, very few were backing them for a spot in the last eight. But logic went out the window against Portugal in Heraklion as the Central Americans sent Europe's finest packing with a resounding 4-2 triumph. "The difference between that game and the others was that we took our chances against Portugal," said Hernández.
The boost to the side's self esteem could not been better timed as they prepare to take on Argentina, many people's favourites, in the quarter-finals. "Obviously, we're expecting a tough game, but we hope we can take full advantage of the wave of confidence that has swept through the side," says the player who likes nothing better than to share a joke or a video game at the team's Olympic headquarters. "If we stayed in our rooms we'd go nuts," he adds.
"Everyone fancied Portugal"
Tico coach Rodrigo Kenton was much more reticent when it came to discussing the big game, and kept his cards very close to his chest. When pressed by some of the local media, all he would say is that he had the utmost confidence in his players' abilities. "Look at what happened [in our last game]. Everybody fancied Portugal, but Costa Rica are still here."
"We'll be trying to play our own game on Saturday. That's our main objective. Obviously experience and strength will be factors in the result, but there are no unbeatable teams in this competition," stressed the coach.
Kenton finished by saying: "We never worry about our rival. What's important is that we are fired up on the day. We have to remember that it's eleven versus eleven. Yes, we must respect our rival, but we shouldn't fear anyone." The whole of Costa Rica, still reeling from the reverse in the qualifiers, will be hoping that Kenton's players take his words to heart on Saturday night.