Costa Rica have reached the FIFA U-17 World Championship quarter-finals twice in a row. Burkina Faso proved one hurdle too many at Trinidad and Tobago 2001, before Columbia eliminated the Costa Ricans two years later in Finland. But if coach Geovanny Alfaro has his way, his current crop will go one better than their predecessors. "We want to get as far as we can. We have the ability to win all our matches and go a very long way," he confidently informed FIFA.com.
It is the Costa Ricans' fourth straight FIFA U-17 World Championship appearance, but despite twice making the last eight, Alfaro denied his team was under pressure. "I think we should just go out there and play." And is the minimum target another quarter-final berth? "I wouldn't say that. All that matters is to take each game as it comes."
Good start a must
The Ticos have prepared meticulously, and done extensive homework on their upcoming opponents. "We've had two scouts out there sending back information about the other teams, and obviously we've turned to other sources as well. We talk to friends and read the papers and the internet. We've also studied a number of videos of our opponents in friendlies, so we've got a pretty good idea of what lies in wait."
Victory over China in the opening match would settle any pre-tournament nerves and provide a perfect platform for reaching the next stage, but Alfaro knows his team face a tough task. "We're aware of China's strengths. It definitely won't be easy, as the Chinese are quick and very good at piling on the pressure. But we're ready for the match, and we'll do what we can to win."
The coach underlined the significance of the first fixture. "It's extremely important. This is only a short tournament, and you know where you stand even after just one game. We have to hit peak form from the off. We're up against the best each continent has to offer, so we've got to be ready and get a good start."
Unity as key to success
Many observers rate Deportivo Saprissa striker César Elizondo as the outstanding talent in the Costa Rica squad, but Alfaro insists team spirit is the key to success. "I'm not going to single out any of my players. We have a settled and high-quality unit. The players know each and every one of them has a part to play in hitting our targets. Each contributes his individual ability for the good of the team as a whole," the coach remarked.
Alfaro reckons he has learnt nothing new from watching his side train on artificial turf. "It's not a problem for us. We have artificial turf pitches in Costa Rica, so we're used to the surface and we've trained on it before. The temperature here is a little cooler than we'd like, but that shouldn't be a problem either."
He regards Group A as evenly matched, with Ghana slight favourites to top the section. "The teams are pretty much at the same level, but Ghana may be a short head in front." Alfaro rates the African runners-up as joint favourites for the trophy. "I would say Ghana, Brazil and the Netherlands are the front-runners to win the tournament."