Anyone stumbling across the Costa Rica squad at their Christchurch hotel on Wednesday could have been forgiven for thinking they had won their opening game at the FIFA U-17 World Cup New Zealand 2008. Just a few hours earlier, however, the Ticas had suffered a chastening 5-0 defeat at the hands of Group B rivals Germany, all of which begged the question: why the Latin music, cakes, soft drinks, dancing and laughter in the corridors? Intrigued, FIFA.com went to find out why.
"Of course the girls are disappointed," comments Costa Rica coach Juan Diego Quesada, rebutting any suggestion his players were not affected by their ordeal earlier in the day. "How can you not be disappointed when you've just lost like that. You have to put things in perspective, though. We were very down in the dressing room after the match but we know we could never have won the game. We could have played better but it still wouldn't have been enough to beat Germany."
Quesada's frankness is admirable, but it still doesn't explain the impromptu celebrations. "Ah, there's a very good reason for all that," he says. "We were going to have fun tonight no matter what the score was. One of our forwards, Raquel Rodriguez Cedeno, is 15 today and we really wanted her to have happy memories of the occasion."
The party certainly seems to be having the desired effect. While the young striker would no doubt have preferred to mark her country's very first appearance in FIFA Women's World Cup competitions with a goal or two, she will remember today for a long time.
"Naturally I would have loved to have scored, and losing today has spoiled the party a little," said the dejected birthday girl when she departed the Queen Elisabeth II Stadium in Christchurch. "Even so, I still had a very nice surprise earlier when my family sent me a video wishing me a really happy birthday. It's really nice to be in touch with them being so far away from home."
Raquel's party and her infectious enthusiasm has brought a smile back to the faces of her team-mates, restoring some much-needed morale ahead of their next two daunting engagements. "There's no doubt that Korea DPR and Ghana are better than us in a number of areas but there's no way we'll be going into the games thinking we're already beaten," vows Quesada. "There's nothing to add about the defeat to Germany, but what I didn't like is that we let them win so easily. We could have played a lot better and I'm sure that we can improve."
No matter what fate has in store for the Costa Ricans when they meet the Asians this Saturday, their experienced coach, who was in charge of the Tico U-17 squad at Trinidad and Tobago 2001, knows their experience Down Under will only stand his players in good stead. "The World Cup is a simple process really. The longer you stay in the competition, the more you learn and the bigger the chance you have of coming back."
"This is the first time we have qualified for a Women's World Cup and I'm confident they can build on what they learn here and go on to repeat this achievement in the future," he continues. "For example, there are four members of the squad who will still be eligible for the next U-17 World Cup, and the experience they are gaining here will perhaps be a better result for us than winning a match."
A goal and a point or three on Saturday, however, and the young Ticas will surely be dancing in the corridors again.