Porras: We can already feel the atmosphere
After a huge send-off by euphoric fans in Costa Rica and a few days acclimatising in Korea Republic, Deportivo Saprissa have touched down in Japan and are soaking up the atmosphere of the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005. Team captain José Francisco Porras took time out to meet with FIFA.com and share his thoughts ahead of Saprissa's opening game against Sydney FC on Monday 12 at 19:20 (local time) at the Toyota Stadium.
The team made full use of their stopover in South Korea, where their two friendlies - a 2-0 win over Suwon and a 1-1 draw with Railroad Suwon - helped them acclimatise to the cold conditions and time difference. Now back in their normal working rhythm, they are completely focused on Sydney FC, their first opponent in the competition.
"We've been working very hard for some time now to make sure we're in top condition for this game. We're all thinking big and have a very positive attitude, something that's really important in this type of competition. We're approaching the game seriously and responsibly so as to demonstrate on the pitch the level of application and focus that's required at an international tournament. On top of all that, there's our football. So all things considered, we're hopeful of getting a good result and, of course, putting on a good spectacle," Porras says.
With 70 years of history compared to the Australian club's 12 months existence, it would appear as if the "Purple Monster" holds the aces when it comes to experience. Even more so if you consider the words of their coach Hernán Medford, who said his squad has been largely unchanged for three years. The captain, however, is taking nothing for granted: "It will be a very difficult game for us. Some people are saying that Sydney are a small outfit, but that's not true. Any club that wins a confederation championship must be strong, both physically and mentally."
The determination of the Tico club is also impressive. "We're a very balanced side and all about good ball movement and resolve. The philosophy of Deportivo Saprissa has always been to set goals and then go about achieving them. This tournament offers us the chance to cover ourselves in glory if we can go all the way. The team's positive mentality and our fervent desire to better ourselves will be a very big influence," the goalkeeper adds.
Then there is Saprissa's determination to do well for their enthusiastic supporters, who gave the team a massive send-off in San José. Such is the level of interest and expectancy that the club's song and sections of their website have been translated into Japanese specially for the occasion. "We have the best fans in Costa Rica, and half the country supports us. Therefore, we'll be giving our all on the pitch for them," vows Porras.
One disadvantage Saprissa may have is that Japanese fans could side more with Sydney FC, given that local hero Kazu Miura will be among their numbers. "He was a valuable signing for two reasons. First they will benefit from Kazu's footballing skills, which are unquestionable, and secondly he will also win them support among the Japanese public. Hopefully that won't affect us much. As a team we're used to soaking up pressure and enjoy playing on the counter," says the goalkeeper.
Progress for Costa Rica
Although it is almost seven months since Deportivo Saprissa beat Pumas UNAM in the final of the CONCACAF Champions Cup to claim their ticket to Japan, for Porras the memories are as fresh as ever. "That tournament had been our objective for a considerable time. Our dream came true that day, and we felt very proud to have achieved our goal."
Over the last two decades, Costa Rican football has been gradually strengthening its position in the international game, both at club and national team level. Coach Hernán Medford was a member of the Tico side that took part in the FIFA U-17 World Championship China 1985, while Porras, currently the national team's first-choice keeper, played at the FIFA World Youth Championship Saudi Arabia 1989. Ever since those early successes, the beautiful game has been making strides in the Central American nation.
"Costa Rica first played at the FIFA World Cup at Italia 90, and since then football has been making notable progress here. We've qualified for several major tournaments, each of which was an important step along the way. I also think that the tournament we're about to embark on will strengthen our position internationally. It's a big step in the right direction, and the country still has Germany 2006 to come," the player says proudly.
Before Porras and Co can start dreaming of national glory, there is the club's date with destiny to attend to. "This tournament is important to us, both individually and collectively, in our quest to be part of world footballing history. It's sure to be a very positive experience and one we'll be making the very most of," the captain says with a smile.