In just a month’s time Costa Rica will welcome the world with open arms. On 15 March the country will host the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014, and the home side are using every minute to make sure they are ready to meet expectations.
"I can’t wait for the competition. I’m so excited, especially because of the mood among the players," said experienced Costa Rica coach Juan Diego Quesada. "They’re in a really positive mood, there’s a happy atmosphere in the camp, and everyone is focused on having a successful tournament."
The coach has spent the last year and a half looking for the best talent the country has to offer, and is currently working with a squad of 24 players. Over the next month their preparation will intensify, before he makes his final selection.
"We have a tour of Colombia coming up and we’re trying to arrange a friendly against Paraguay. And we play China on 8 March," explained the 52-year-old coach. "We have a lot of tactical work to do, so that we know exactly what our strategy is during the World Cup, and how we’re going to put it into practice. The players have a lot to learn in a short time."
Bouquets and brickbats
The coach highlights the potential of enormously talented 14-year-old Gloriana Villalobos, the team’s leader and captain despite being the smallest player in the squad. As well as starring for the U-17s, Villalobos was also part of the squad that recently qualified for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014.
"She’s a key player. She has so much ability and a great attitude both on and off the pitch," said her coach. "She's completely dedicated to the game, studies what’s going on around her, and is disciplined and well-behaved. She's a good teammate and keeps a close eye on the rest of the group. She’s a great example for the other players, because she does her talking on the pitch. She earned the captain’s armband. The rest of the squad appreciate her and support her,” he added.
All the hard work and sacrifice has not dented the high spirits of the players. “Their desire to play in the World Cup has helped them through the tough times. Their positive attitude, determination and willingness to make sacrifices has really helped. They’ve been consistent and dedicated in their efforts,” continued Quesada.
But there are always bumps in the road. One of those is finding time to play and study. "It’s always difficult, especially for players who live in more remote areas, because their parents don’t want them to miss school. So we’ve adapted our training schedule accordingly and we do as much work as we can during the school holidays," he explained.
Past and future
This will be the fourth World Cup for the coach, who was in charge of the Costa Rica men’s team in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001 and again in Nigeria in 2009. He also coached the women’s team in the first FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand in 2008.
"Women’s football is growing in Costa Rica, but perhaps not at the pace we would’ve liked. We should’ve supported the game more after the World Cup in New Zealand. But there are a lot more girls playing and training these days. The game’s established now and there are no barriers in society. But we’re lagging behind in terms of opportunities to practice and structured development and training.
He is hopeful that the forthcoming World Cup will leave a lasting legacy. "There’s been a noticeable growth in public interest. People are excited and want to come to the stadium and watch us. There’s a real bond between the players and the fans. It’s so important for us to have their support behind us. I’m sure this World Cup will open Costa Rica’s eyes to women’s football," he declared.
The coach knows he has to keep his excitement about his first World Cup on home soil under control. He stresses how important it is to keep a cool head as the tournament approaches. “I try not to get too emotional. I don’t get carried away during the good times, and I don’t get depressed during the bad times. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You have to celebrate and suffer in moderation," he concluded.