The last few weeks have not been easy for Costa Rica and their army of followers. Los Ticos, after all, were just seconds away from a place at South Africa 2010, when a late, late USA equaliser in their final CONCACAF group game condemned them to the play-offs and sent Honduras through instead.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com in the immediate aftermath of that heart-breaking finale, veteran defender Luis Marin summed up the sense of disbelief in the Costa Rican camp: “Missing out on direct qualification for South Africa was a heavy blow. Only God knows why it had to happen like that, but from now on we've simply got to focus on the matches against Uruguay.”
Despite that crushing setback, Marin and his team-mates are still within touching distance of the finals, and if they can get past play-off opponents Uruguay, then the disappointment of their late collapse against the Americans will quickly be forgotten.
The man charged with restoring Tico morale and helping the players overcome their psychological scars is coach Rene Simoes. The veteran Brazilian has been insisting that his players rediscover their hunger for success and put bad memories and negative thoughts out of their minds altogether.
“Rene Simoes spoke to us about it, and morale in the camp is very good at the moment,” continued Marin, underlining the importance of the coach in restoring their faith. “We’re working hard, we’re motivated and we’re really looking forward to the match.”
Backing up the defender’s praise for Simoes was none other than former national boss Bora Milutinovic, a man who knows a thing or two about salvaging lost causes. “Costa Rica have a very fine coach in Rene Simoes,” said the globe-trotting tactician. “He’s a great motivator, as he showed with Jamaica at France 98. Now it’s just a question of seeing if he can lift the team after what happened to them in the USA.”
I see the players as very happy right now but they’re also working extremely hard.
The Brazilian tactician spoke of that task and his footballing philosophy in a recent press conference. “Any team or squad has to have a soul and I think that this team is discovering their soul right now, which is very nice,” he explained. “They are tremendously strong and that’s the most important thing. Other things that you also have to have are discipline and joy. I see the players as very happy right now but they’re also working extremely hard.”
With Simoes's men having regained their self-belief, more than one former Tico legend has been tipping them to pull off a shock win against their South American rivals, among them Paulo Wanchope, perhaps the best player ever to represent the country and now the national technical director. “On paper they're the favourites, but it’s not impossible,” he said. “I believe we can do it and that we have the players to beat Uruguay. We have a magnificent chance to go to the World Cup.”
Rolando Fonseca, the top scorer in Costa Rican history, echoed the views of his fellow national idol and played down the importance of the tie being decided in Montevideo. “Of course we can win and outside factors just don’t come into it. There won’t be much between the sides and you have to remember that the 70,000 fans who’ll be at the Estadio Centenario can’t get on the pitch and play.”
The last word on Costa Rica’s chances of success goes to the President of the country’s football association, Eduardo Li. “I believe we can qualify. I’m not just saying that and I’m not raising false expectations,” he said with genuine conviction. “If you want to believe, then believe. And if you don’t, then I’m not interested.” With talk like that to inspire them, Simoes’ troops will not lack confidence when they cross swords with the Uruguayans.