Costa Rica striker Bryan Ruiz is anything but non-committal. "If we win the next two matches, I think we'll be certain of going to the World Cup," says the new Twente striker, who turned 24 last month. "Up against Mexico at home, it's going to be a final."
The stakes will be extremely high for Los Ticos in San Jose this Saturday as they attempt to further their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ ambitions against Javier Aguirre's visitors. Current leaders of the six-team group in the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone, Costa Rica boast 12 points after six matches and would pull six points clear of Mexico with a victory, before they then travel to second-bottom El Salvador on Wednesday.
"We mustn't lose points at home but it's going to be very difficult," Ruiz told FIFA.com. "Mexico started badly but since the arrival of Aguirre they've come back well and are getting better all the time. We all know their experience in these sorts of matches. We'll need to be focused, united and above all effective in front of goal. We'll have to put our chances away."
His country's second-highest scorer in qualifying thanks to four strikes from 11 outings, the tall and technically gifted forward is also the most expensive Costa Rican player. FC Twente's five million Euro summer signing from Gent, the side he joined two years ago, has now begun to justify his newfound status with the national team.
"My role has changed in the last year," said Ruiz. "I have greater responsibility and I have to use the experience I've picked up in Europe. Playing in a big league automatically adds to your obligations within the national team, and that's even more true when the stakes are as high as they are now."
Superb during his side's 3-1 win over the USA in June, the former Deportivo Alajuelense prodigy is happy to discuss how he feels Saturday's game will unfold. "It's going to be a very tight match," he said. "We're playing at home so we'll have to be aggressive going forward from the very first minutes. They're going to be well-organised in defence and will wait for the first chance to create danger. Defensively, we can't allow ourselves to make any of the mistakes we made against Honduras. Up front, Mexico have players capable of killing off the match at any moment, so our marking will have to be impeccable. And, at the business end, we'll need to be on target. Those are the two keys to the game."
Those mistakes against Honduras resulted in a punishing 4-0 away loss last time out, but Ruiz is confident he and his colleagues have put that shock defeat behind them. "It was difficult because we didn't expect it," he said. "But you have to accept playing badly. It comes with the territory for a professional footballer. We messed that game up, but that happens. We've got over it because our chances of qualification are still intact. That's all we should be thinking about since everything depends on us: we have our destiny in our own hands. Not going to Germany was difficult to live with personally, but as I always tell myself, 'When one door closes, another one opens.' Now we need to finish the job."
Talk may be cheap, yet for La Comadreja (The Weasel) it echoes a growing motivation at the heart of this Costa Rica team, who have been steadily re-establishing themselves in the CONCACAF region after losing their way for a while. "We had to pass from one generation to another and that takes time," explained Ruiz, already a father and as shy as he is ambitious. "The team is more mature now. The mix between the older players and the younger ones is good, we've grown up and we're at the same level as the USA and Mexico now."
A CONCACAF Champions League winner in 2007, Ruiz himself is the perfect symbol of Costa Rica's revitalised side, with the likes of Alvaro Saborio and Celso Borges also based abroad. "The best players in the world are in Europe and when you play there, you grow in footballing terms and as a person too," he said. "I'm no longer the same. I've progressed enormously and grown tougher. The more players playing in Europe there are in the national team, the better." An appearance at a FIFA World Cup would surely accelerate that trend significantly.