After losing the first leg of their qualifying play-off 1-0 to Uruguay in front of their own fans at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica now have it all to do to reach 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Nor does their track record give inspire much hope for the second leg, with Rene Simoes’ team having won just one of their five away fixtures in the final six-team CONCACAF qualification round. Upon arrival in Montevideo, however, Los Tricolores were upbeat and confident of pulling off a surprise win to secure qualification.
Costa Rica struggled away from home throughout their South Africa 2010 qualification campaign. The problems started in the first knockout match, in which they were held 2-2 against a modest Grenada side. And although they appeared to get back on track in the penultimate round, winning all three of their away matches, of their group rivals only El Salvador could be seriously considered as dangerous opposition.
Then in the final six-team Hexagonal qualification round, Los Ticos once again showed stuttering form on their travels. Although they managed a 3-2 win at bottom-side Trinidad and Tobago, they suffered defeats in Mexico (2-0), Honduras (4-0) and El Salvador (1-0), results which do not bode well for Wednesday 18 December's match at Montevideo’s mythical Estadio Centenario.
The Centenario isn't as fearsome as people make out.
Their most recent away game, however, was more encouraging for Simoes' side. With a 2-0 half-time lead after a brace from Bryan Ruiz, Los Tricolores looked like springing a major surprise in Washington DC against the USA. The home team came storming back in the second half, but needed a Jonathan Bornstein equaliser in the fourth minute of injury time to deny Costa Rica all three points. Despite the disheartening final result, this was perhaps Los Ticos’ best performance of the Hexagonal round.
Seeking an Aztecazo repeat
But if anyone thought that these statistics and last Saturday's defeat would dampen spirits in the Costa Rican camp, they would be making a big mistake. Indeed, the team have set off for South America in a defiant mood, convinced that they can win against all odds.
“We've got to believe in ourselves,” said coach Simoes before boarding the plane to Montevideo. “And to put it in context, if Uruguay could beat Brazil (to win the 1950 FIFA World Cup) in what was known as the Maracanazo, why can't we do the same in the Centenario?”
Los Ticos can also look to a much more recent match for inspiration: the famous Aztecazo of 2001, when they travelled to the impregnable fortress that is Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca and came away with a memorable 2-1 success.
Central defender Luis Marin echoed the sentiments of his coach. “The Centenario isn't as fearsome as people make out,” he said. “The pitch is very wide and the fans are quite far from the action. Even when the stadium is full, the crowd don't have the same impact as they do at the Estadio Saprissa.”
Once in Uruguay, Costa Rica got straight down to business, and Simoes has scheduled a double training session for the eve of the match. The Brazilian knows that thorough preparation is key if they are to achieve a historic win, and that his Tico charges are ready to battle until the last second in Montevideo for a place at South Africa 2010.