Costa Rica travel to Egypt as reigning champions of CONCACAF, having beaten a high-power USA in the region's final in March. With an elegant crop of midfield players, the goal threat of Josue Martinez and the tactical acumen of coach Ronald Gonzalez, the Ticos riding high after winning their first North, Central American and Caribbean youth title since 1988 and will be keen to improve on the first-round exit they made last time out at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007.
The Ticos were in fine form in the qualifying tournament, held in Trinidad over nine days in March. They picked up seven points from a pair of wins (one over pre-tournament favourites Mexico) and a draw in the group stages and beat Honduras in a penalty shoot-out in their semi-final. When they met the United States in the final in Macoya, the Central Americans had only conceded one goal in their four previous matches. The US, though, had conceded none. In a battle of defensive dynamos it was the Ticos who managed to fly out of their shell, scoring three against the States in a comprehensive 3-0 win.
Ronald Gonzalez had a proud career in the 1990s and early 2000s, lining up for local giants Deportivo Saprissa and the Costa Rican national team with stints at Dinamo Zagreb and Sturm Graz and CSD Comunicaciones of Guatemala. In addition to scoring for Costa Rica at their maiden appearance at the FIFA World Cup in Italy in 1990 at just 19 years of age, Gonzalez has experience at youth level that will surely help him in his current job. He was captain of the Costa Rica side that travelled to Saudi Arabia for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The current crop of Ticos is loaded with top-tier talent. Chief among the attack-minded starlets in Gonzalez's squad is Deportivo Saprissa's jet-heeled striker Josue Martinez, who picked up two goals in an outstanding performance in the qualifying final. Alajuelense man Marcos Urena and Saprissa's David Guzman are also players to watch as they set their sights on Egypt. With a large chunk of the squad coming from domestic giants Saprissa, Gonzalez will have a team brimming with chemistry and understanding.
What they said...
"At the start of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Trinidad we were not thinking about becoming champions, we were just focussing on taking a place at the World Cup. But as we went along, we kept playing better and it all just happened for us," Costa Rica coach Ronald Gonzalez, after being crowned CONCACAF U-20 champions.