Manuel Urena: “I heard them running, banging the doors and shouting ‘Costa Rica, Costa Rica'"
There is no more nerve-wracking way to qualify. After finishing all things equal with Nigeria for second spot in Group B, Costa Rica were finally granted their pass to the last eight through the drawing of lots. Now they will be hoping the luck stays with them as they take on Colombia on Töölö’s artificial grass in Helsinki on Saturday. Coach Manuel Urena told FIFA.com about the agony and ecstasy of it all.
What went through your mind on that final day of matches in Group B?
It was an emotional day. First we had to wait and hope that Nigeria lost. Then when they did, we had to be restrained and not get carried away. I told the players to be patient, that a game lasts 90 minutes, and to play Costa Rica’s way with the ball on the ground. We got on top in the second half. With 2 minutes to go, I took the decision to sit back and settle for the 2-0. I was scared we might concede a goal - we still had an even chance to qualify.
There were television pictures of you before the game passionately singing the national anthem. Did you sense you could make it?
I felt strong. I believed we could qualify.
Were you present in the room when they drew lots?
No we were in the dressing room praying. I went there very relaxed, knowing that we had done a good job on the pitch and that it was now 50-50. Two Costa Rican representatives went into the room where lots were drawn. Then, a few seconds later, I heard them running, banging the doors and shouting “Costa Rica, Costa Rica”. The players started singing and shouting. I stayed praying and thanking God. Then I went back to the hotel and slept peacefully.
How do you see the game against Colombia going?
There are a lot of similarities between the teams. In the golden age of Colombian football in the 50s, a lot of their coaches like Francisco Maturana came over to Costa Rica. We first learned about the line of four, using the length and width of the pitch and the pressing game. I know that they are a very hard working team and that during the South American championship they played physically - they drew with Argentina and beat Brazil – so it is going to be tough.
In which areas of the field do you think the game will be won?
They play 4-4-2 with two forwards and a midfield diamond. I think we will have to get through on the outside of the diamond, pushing our full backs up to get in behind them.
Who will the key players be?
For them, Hidalgo (Carlos), their number 7 (Pablo Armero), number 4 (Victor Vargas) and 14 (Alberto Bolivar). For us Ariel Rodriguez, Pablo Rodriguez, Josimar Arias, Jose Garro, who has a lot more to give in this tournament. Crisanto Esquivel is important to us too. He marks up well and works extremely hard for us.
Is there anything to fear from Colombia’s 9-1 win against Finland?
No, it was just the particular circumstances of that match. Finland had to attack and left massive holes at the back. All games are different.
Are you happy with the way Costa Rica have played in this tournament?
Yes, against Nigeria in the second half. I was pleased with the whole game versus Argentina and happy with the second half’s performance against Australia. There are things that we have done well, others not so well and still more things that we have learned.
What would it mean to Costa Rica to qualify for the semi-finals and perhaps achieve more?
It would be a watershed. We have got this far (second round) at the 1990 World Cup so it would be a record. Football in our country is on the rise above all because we have a lot of talented players. We don’t have proper pitches, but the day we do Costa Rica will have even more success. Our organisation, preparation has improved and our coaches are more qualified. Families are pushing their children towards football more than ever before. But, above all, the main reason we are doing so well is that we have the technical ability.
All three CONCACAF teams have qualified for the quarter-finals. The region is also on the up.
In the USA 18 million, children play football. With this team, they will be looking at winning the World Cup in 2010. Mexico is a footballing colossus. There are so many players, so much money and they have a professional league. Costa Rica, on the other hand, has a beautiful name but no money – only bundles of talent. But there are other countries in the area that are doing well such as Honduras and El Salvador. In my opinion it is because of the race mix - black with Indian, European with Indian - that helps to produce the best players.
Of the other teams, who has impressed you?
Bala (Ezekiel) and Mikel (John) of Nigeria. From Argentina the number 2 (Ezequiel Garay), number 5 (Lucas Biglia) who hasn’t played much so far (because of injury). But I know he is good because we played them recently in Venezuela and lost 7-1. I also saw him in many of Argentina’s games during the South American championship and he is a great player.
And Freddy Adu?
Yes, he is direct, has great balance and coordination. With his flexibility and technique, he has all the secondary physical attributes. He also has a certain magic.
Is it really possible at that age to tell that a footballer could become a great star of the future?
Yes, talent is talent.