Despite being regular participants at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Costa Rica crashed out at the group stage of Canada 2007, the last edition of the tournament. That disappointment partly explains why they are leaving nothing to chance this time out. With a series of testing overseas friendlies, an exhaustive selection process, and a commitment to the expansive playing style of Costa Rican youth football, Ronald Gonzalez's side are looking ahead confidently to next month's showpiece event in Egypt.
Results breeding assurance
Just a few weeks ago, La Tricolor took part in six-team tournament in Venezuela, in which four of their opponents - the hosts, Brazil, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago - were teams that will also be in Egypt. Showing their credentials once more, Costa Rica finished a very creditable second thanks to wins over T&T, Venezuela B and Paraguay, and a scoreless draw with Brazil. Their solitary defeat was a 2-1 loss to Venezuela's first team.
Furthermore, Costa Rica's Diego Madrigal finished the tournament as second-highest scorer with three goals, and the local media were unanimous in their admiration for the team's flowing football. Unsurprisingly, this has left coach Gonzalez brimming with confidence ahead of the big event.
"We're pleased to have taken the runners-up spot, just as we are with the performance and progress of the team," he said. "It gave us the chance to test ourselves at a high level and also confirmed that we have assembled the best possible squad for the World Cup. In addition, during the course of the tournament we consolidated aspects of our preferred playing style."
For all that, Gonzalez is not resting on his laurels. The coach, who captained his nation at senior level during his long playing career, knows only too well that preparations for a global tournament need to be meticulous if the desired results are to be achieved.
Gonzalez is open about areas his side need to strengthen. "We manage to switch pretty well between defence and attack, but I've realised we have to improve when going in the opposite direction," he conceded. "We need to move quicker and enhance our ability to get back and defend. Furthermore, we have to work a lot more on set-pieces and playing under sustained pressure so as to be better equipped to overcome difficult situations."
In general, though, the coach is upbeat about his side's chances in Africa. "I'm optimistic," he said. "I feel we're in good shape, and in physical terms we're going to improve even more. I just hope my players start playing with their respective sides so as to get match fit and used to the rhythm of competition."
The coach will shortly face the difficult job of deciding who will make the final squad for Egypt 2009, before fine-tuning his team's preparations with a series of friendlies. "In August, the players will train from Monday to Thursday and then play with their clubs on Sundays," he revealed.
"We have a four-team international competition to take part in, and then we'll all be together from 6 September onwards. We have a match lined up against the United Arab Emirates in Turkey, then a final tournament in Europe before we head to the World Cup."
With no stone left unturned, Costa Rica could not be better equipped to achieve their goal of a historic performance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.