Saprissa bonds key to redemption
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As any coach will tell you, theirs is a job that is part strategy, part psychology. This week, however, Costa Rica's Ronald Gonzalez has been forced to focus almost entirely on the latter. With Los Ticos still reeling from that 5-0 defeat to Brazil in their opening match, Gonzalez's task has been to rebuild his players' shattered morale and restore some self-belief ahead of a vital Group E showdown with Australia.

"That is the biggest challenge for us right now," he admitted. "Personally, I cannot hide the fact that it was one of the longest nights of my life [after the Brazil match]. I wasn't able to stop thinking about the game, just looking for an explanation of why we lost like that.

"Fortunately, the players are already feeling better and have trained very well. It was a tough blow to their confidence but we had a very good meeting, speaking frankly about what went wrong and what we must do to make things right. What's done is done; we just need to make sure that we turn over a new leaf and give the world a different image of our team. Football always gives you a chance to redeem yourself and this game against Australia is ours."

It is in times of adversity that togetherness and team spirit take on added significance, of course, and Gonzalez believes he has a secret weapon in this respect. After all, with nine of his 21-man squad on the books of Costa Rican giants Saprissa, he has at his disposal a nucleus of close friends whose bonds have been forged over several years. Gonzalez, himself a distinguished former Saprissa player, believes this could prove crucial.

We need to give the world a different image of our team. Football always gives you a chance to redeem yourself and this game against Australia is ours.
Costa Rica coach Ronald Gonzalez

"There is a big connection there and I definitely think it helps us because those Saprissa players essentially form the base of this team," he told FIFA.com. "The fact they already know each other so well makes us stronger as a unit. There's a base there and a structure that has been in place since this team played together at the U-17 World Cup in Korea. It makes us a very close group and, normally, we are a team that scores many goals and does not concede many. Before the Brazil game, we had only ever lost two goals in official competitions."

It was on the foundation of this frugal defence that Los Ticos became continental champions, and if there is consolation to be found this week, it is perhaps in the fact their best performance in the CONCACAF preliminaries came in the 3-0 final win over USA. After all, in Australia, they face a side similar to the Americans in both style and stature, and Gonzalez is hopeful that his side will prevail in this clash of football cultures.

"It is really hard to play against a team like Brazil, who keep the ball so well, but I think we will find it easier to control the game against Australia," he explained. "Whenever we have played against Canada, USA, Trinidad and Tobago - all physical, direct teams - we have always done well.

"The important thing is for us to impose our style on this game. Australia have a very physical approach with lots of long balls and, if the game becomes a contest of strength, we will lose. It's vital we play to our own strengths, move the ball quickly across the pitch and look for ways to use our speed and technical ability.

"It won't be easy but I feel that, Brazil aside, the teams in this group are very evenly matched. It's the toughest section in the tournament but I'm still hopeful we can make it through."