Tico juniors aiming high
© AFP

The Costa Rican national squad currently preparing for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 have been set a very specific mission: to challenge for the world title. And having held their own at previous editions of the elite event without going the distance, the young Ticos have been put through a rigorous pre-tournament training schedule.

Indeed, coach Juan Diego Quesada's programme clicked into gear as soon as his team had sealed their place at the competition and has featured a lengthy training camp and a South American tour. Now in the final stage of this preparatory phase, the focus has turned to setting lofty targets for their African adventure.

We've worked hard on our weaknesses and we've improved a lot, but there's plenty still to do. Time's running out.
Costa Rica U-17 coach Juan Diego Quesada

"We want to do better than we've done before," said coach Quesada. "At Trinidad 2001 I took them to the second round (in a previous spell in charge) and this time I want to go further and fight for the title. It's not an impossible task, despite our limitations."

However, the road to success promises to be long and hard, with their South American journey offering a timely reminder of the challenges ahead. Four defeats in four games were tough to swallow for the young Tricolores, though the lessons learned should at least rule out any complacency. The first two of these matches came in Colombia, with the hosts winning 3-0 and then 2-0. Next up were two encounters with Peru a few days later, Quesada's boys going down 1-0 and 2-1.

"We've worked hard on our weaknesses and we've improved a lot, but there's plenty still to do. Time's running out," said the strategist, who feels the team learned valuable lessons despite the negative results. "This squad has very good individuals but we're lacking collective strength. We need to learn how to play as a team and to keep our tactical discipline for 90 minutes. If we can do that then Costa Rica will go a long way in Nigeria."

Finishing touches
With the showpiece on Nigerian soil just a matter of weeks away, more match practice will be vital for Los Ticos to hit the ground running in the competition which runs from 24 October to 15 November. Particularly since the games in South America were Costa Rica's first since clinching qualification back in April, and given the quality of their rivals in Group D at Nigeria 2009.

"We came up against Burkina Faso in the second round of the (U-17) World Cup in Trinidad and we collected information about New Zealand last year. I don't know much about Turkey but I feel that we can more than hold our own (in this group)," said a confident Quesada as the interview concluded.

"Costa Rica can go far and give a good account of themselves. We'd all benefit from that: the players, the FA and the clubs. We must go there with the highest expectations. The country has reached eight U-17 World Cups, so at this stage we can't think that merely qualifying is enough."