Spain and Costa Rica may be bracketed by language, but juxtaposing them in footballing tone firmly suggested a colossal mismatch had been scheduled in the Group C kick-off at Colombia 2011.
Julen Lopetegiu's squad comprised players from Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool; Ronald Gonzales's just three players based in Europe, and only one of those, Lorient reserve Mynor Escoe, at a top-flight club. As the UEFA European Championship, FIFA World Cup™ and UEFA U-21 European Championship holders, and housing the UEFA Champions League winners, Spanish football was on cloud nine; the Costa Rican game was reeling from failure to qualify for South Africa 2010 and suffered elimination by Honduras at the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup. Moreover, only Brazil had appeared in more FIFA U-20 World Cups than the Iberians.
Accordingly, Spain took just 14 minutes to break the deadlock in Manizales, before dominating the remainder of the half. Rodri made it 2-0 just after the restart. Daniel Pacheco almost amplified the lead minutes later. The Europeans were coasting.
That was until the 59th-minute introduction of John Ruiz changed the game. The 17-year-old coolly halved the deficit on 65 minutes, which invigorated the Costa Ricans and rattled the Spaniards. Joel Campbell almost got the Central Americans on level terms only to be denied by Aitor's sharp reflexes, and the No10 cut one ball right across the face of his opponents' goal that was begging to be put in, before Juan Golobio's strike smashed against the Spain crossbar.
Finally, though, Lopetegiu's youngsters received a rare moment of respite in the form of a counter-attack, and when the ball made its way to Koke, he clinically dispatched a right-foot finish into the bottom corner to extinguish the possibility of an inconceivable comeback. Spaniards breathed a collective sigh of relief, and with Costa Rica disheartened, Isco was able to complete a flaterring 4-1 win from the penalty spot.
“I'm pleased I managed to score,” Koke told FIFA.com. “It does give you a little bit of confidence. Fortunately it came at a crucial moment. They had a good spell and we were admittedly under pressure. But over the course of the game we deserved the result.”
Central to that result was two-goal Rodri. “He played a really good game,” said Koke of the Brazil-born No9. “He worked hard, his movement was good, and he did what strikers are supposed to do and scored goals. The first showed how much quality he has, and the second showed his determination and opportunism. Hopefully he can keep up his form against Ecuador.”
It remains to be seen whether Sergio Canales, the biggest name in the Spain camp, will be fit to face the South Americans. Koke, however, believes La Roja are a match for anyone with or without their No10.
The Atletico Madrid playmaker said: “We didn't feel under any extra pressure [against Costa Rica]. He's a great player, but we're a group. We have  good players and no matter who plays, we expect to win.”
“We'll have to wait and see if [Canales] plays against Ecuador, but we'll be confident regardless. They are a different proposition to Costa Rica. South Americans teams are never easy to beat, but we'll focus on playing our own game, keeping possession and creating chances. We'll have to try and make sure we don't have another lapse, like we did [Costa Rica]. We want to put ourselves in the next phase before we play our final game.”
Reaching the Round of 16 is, however, merely an immediate goal for Spain. “We came here to win the trophy, nothing less,” declared Koke. “Of course we're taking each game as it comes, taking each opponents seriously, but that's our aim.”