As you glance down the list of players set to defend Costa Rican colours at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, the names Celso Borges and Jean Carlos Solorzano immediately catch the eye. It is these two youngsters who bear the lion's share of fans' expectations, as the Ticos bid to reach the last four of a FIFA competition for the very first time.
United behind this common goal, and blessed with the talent to make this particular dream a reality, the similarities between the two young tyros end there. Away from the national squad one turns out for Deportivo Saprissa, the other for fierce rivals Alajuelense. One has shined brightest at national team level, while the other stars for his club side. And one is currently enjoying a fine run of form and fitness, while the other races against time to get back to his best after injury.
Borges: football in the blood
From a very young age, Celso Borges has known first-hand the pressures of following in the footsteps of a famous father. The Saprissa midfield man is the son of a bona fide Costa Rican footballing legend, former national team player and coach Alexandre Guimaraes.
This legacy has proved to be both a blessing and a hindrance for the talented 19-year-old. His performances out on the pitch attest to his undoubted quality, although constant comparisons with his father have forced Borges to work doubly hard to prove himself in his own right.
Borges is a product of the Club Deportivo Saprissa youth set-up, but he had marked himself out as one for the future even before making his first-team debut for the Monstruo Morado (Purple Monster). The technically adept midfielder burst onto the scene at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005, the Ticos reaching the quarter-finals only to lose a pulsating encounter to eventual winners Mexico.
The tournament on Peruvian soil proved to be something of a launch pad for the youngster's career. Having gradually forced his way into the first-team picture at Saprissa, by 2006 Borges was one of the key figures in the Morado side that went on to pip arch-rivals Alajuelense to the domestic league title. In his first full season with the seniors, Borges made 25 appearances and notched two goals.
All the while Celso has continued to move smoothly through the ranks of Costa Rica's national youth sides. Team-mate Juan Carlos Solorzano took the plaudits for his performances in qualifying for Canada 2007, but Borges has retaken the lead role in the Ticos' recent pre-tournament preparatory games. In fact, he was the star man as the Tricolor grabbed second place in the Busan Cup in Korea Republic, playing a full role in his team's 4-1 defeat over Suwon University and 2-0 success against Mexico's B-side.
Time of the essence for Solorzano
Creative duties in the Costa Rica set-up may be the domain of Celso Borges, but much of his good work would be in vain were it not for Jean Carlos Solorzano at the sharp end of the Tico attack. Blessed with searing pace, quality finishing skills and a penchant for the spectacular, the Alajuelense front-man never fails to catch the eye when wearing his country's colours.
Nevertheless, the striker with the rock-star image has struggled to find a regular place in the Alajuelense starting eleven, appearing for the Rojinegros on just five occasions in the 2006-07 campaign.
In his defence, a persistent knee injury has had a significant role in this acute lack of involvement, leading the player to undergo remedial surgery on the affected area on 12 April 2007. Solorzano has since faced a race against time to return to full fitness ahead of Canada 2007.
Fortunately, it is a race that Solorzano appears set to win. Barely six weeks after the operation, he was back training with the Tricolor contingent, much to the surprise of coach Giovanny Alfaro. "Jean Carlos has arrived in great spirits, and his recovery has gone very well," said the strategist. "He's got a very positive outlook on life, is mentally strong, and is always looking to move forward. Fortunately, he's further along the recovery process than we'd initially expected and that's great news for us."
His recovery marks the end of a nervous period for Tico supporters, who had feared losing half of the Borges-Solorzano partnership that has served the Tricolor so well. Back together and ready to put club rivalries aside for the common goal, Costa Rica's hopes for Canada 2007 are in very safe hands.