Having stated his aim of winning the 2011 Copa Centroamericana in Panama in his first official competition at the Costa Rica helm, Ricardo La Volpe’s sense of disappointment was palpable after Los Ticos’ 2-1 final defeat by Honduras. Yet the Argentinian coach will still be able to take plenty of positives from his charges’ display, notably a significant boost come the next edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and the unearthing of a host of talented youngsters.
It is a gift for the latter that has marked El Bigotón’s coaching career, with the former Mexico supremo having previously helped discover and nurture the likes of Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcido and Andres Guardado. As FIFA.com reveals, the signs suggest La Volpe is set to do the same with Costa Rica, particularly on the evidence of a Centroamericana squad that featured 12 players under the age of 23.
Keeping it tight at the back
Generally speaking, defence is not usually a part of the field where coaches enjoy blooding youngsters, especially since any mistakes in your own third can often prove costly. However, La Volpe is no slave to convention and ahead of the Centroamericana he called up five defenders under the age of 22 in the shape of Dave Myrie, Christian Gamboa, Pedro Leal, Oscar Duarte and Kevin Fajardo.
Seizing the opportunity with most gusto was Myrie, who plays his club football for homeland outfit Puntarenas. Physically imposing at over 6’2, Myrie showed strength, aerial prowess and an impressive ability to marshal Los Ticos’ backline, firmly standing out as one to watch. Also catching the eye was the versatile Gamboa. Usually deployed in a right-midfield berth for his Norwegian club Fredrikstad, the fleet-footed wide-man thrived in a wing-back role in La Volpe’s fluid 5-3-2 formation, constantly threatening down the flank but without leaving his fellow defenders exposed.
Less utilised were the other three members of the fledgling defensive quintet, with right-back Leal making just one appearance and central defender Duarte and wing-back Fajardo failing to see action. Even so, as their first official competition at full international level, the tournament on Panamanian soil will undoubtedly have proved a valuable learning experience.
Borges shining brightest
However, the star of the show for Costa Rica was gifted midfielder Celso Borges who, at the tender age of 22, has already racked up over 30 senior caps for La Tricolor. The most influential figure in the youthful midfield sent out by La Volpe, Borges’ creativity was enhanced by having the speed, devilish dribbling and tireless work ethic of diminutive Alajuelense flyer Allen Guevara alongside him.
While Guevara preferred to roam onto the right flank, the left-hand side was the domain of Miguel Cubero. Another man who appeared in all of Los Ticos’ encounters, the future of the 23-year-old looks very promising despite losing his starting berth for the team’s final two games.
Further forward were yet more bright young things, notably 20-year-old striker Marcos Urena. The Alajuelense hitman struck three times, including once in the final, to take the tournament’s top scorers’ honours and underline the powerful shooting and emphatic finishing that earned him plenty of admirers at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009.
Boasting similar experience is Cesar Elizondo, who represented his country at the 2005 edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup and the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada two years later. The 22-year-old Perez Zeledon forward impressed on his three outings at Panama 2011, though will be disappointed not to have found the net. Nor should we forget David Guzman, a veteran of Egypt 2009 and the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, and fellow 20-year-old Josue Arenas, who were both given a taste of senior international football during their solitary appearances.
“The experience that the young lads have picked up is incredibly important,” said La Volpe after his side’s semi-final win over hosts Panama. “Playing in full stadiums with an incredible atmosphere was truly invaluable. What’s more, they’ve proved just how much quality they have.” But having missed out on 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, does this new generation have what it takes to fire La Tricolor to Brazil 2014?