Ticos fall below expectations
Costa Rica were hoping for big things in Germany. Alexandre Guimaraes' squad was considered one of the best in the country's history, a unit more than capable of repeating the achievements of Italia 90 when the Ticos reached the last 16.
Results on the pitch, however, fell a long way short of expectations, and the statistics, on this occasion at least, do not lie. The Tricolor failed to pick up a single point in their three games at Germany 2006, conceding nine goals and scoring only three.
So what went wrong? The Central American side's main problems were mainly defensive in nature. Following an injury to key man Gilberto Martinez, coach Guimaraes tried in vain to compensate, but neither Jervis Drummond nor Leonardo Gonzalez were able to fill the breach left by Tuma on the right-hand side of defence.
Another problem faced by the Tricolor was a patent inability to find their natural rhythm. Traditional exponents of a slow, short-passing game, the Costa Ricans were unable to channel the ball forward and supply the attacking duo of Paulo Wanchope and Ronald Gomez. This was mainly because their Group A opponents dictated a much faster pace than the Ticos could handle, outmuscling Guimaraes' side in all three games.
A clear conscience
Despite the disappointment of losing all three games, there are some positive points for the fans to reflect on. The first of these was the form of Wanchope up front. After a largely disappointing season with Herediano in the Costa Rican league, the highly influential striker bounced back with two well-taken goals in his side's opening game against the hosts. Although he failed to get on the scoresheet again, he remained his side's main attacking option throughout.
Another player who can feel at ease with himself is Jose Francisco Porras. Despite being at fault for Poland's first goal in the 2-1 loss on Monday, the Deportivo Saprissa keeper got his side out of trouble on numerous occasions and was one of Guimaraes' most consistent performers.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of a largely disappointing campaign, however, was the fact that the Costa Ricans never gave up hope even when the scoreline was against them. Remaining faithful to their footballing principles, the Tricolor looked to push forward at every opportunity, albeit with limited success.
Not surprisingly there are doubts as to whether Guimaraes will stay in the hotseat. Talks had been held on extending his contract to 2010, but were put on hold until after Germany 2006. All should be revealed within the next few days.
Reasons to be cheerful
Despite the palpable sense of dejection at their early elimination, there are a couple of bright spots on the horizon for Costa Rican football, namely Cristian Bolanos and Alvaro Saborío. The up-and-coming duo may have played less of a part than they would have liked, but Bolanos showed just what he was capable of against the Poles, and his exciting dribbling skills and direct running bode well for the future.
The inexperienced Saborio, meanwhile, is an ever-willing, hard-running frontman who could yet become the finished article provided he hones his finishing skills. The next four years could well see the pair emerge as the leaders of a new generation, one ready to carry the Costa Rican standard again at South Africa 2010.