Within touching distance of glory, El Salvador head into tomorrow’s showdown with Costa Rica in the knowledge that a win would guarantee them a place in the Hexagonal, CONCACAF’s final qualifying phase for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. And though the team standing in their way are one of the region’s top sides, La Selecta have home advantage in what has all the makings of an epic encounter.
The home side are acutely aware of the responsibility they will be shouldering, and none more so than captain Dennis Alas, who spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the feeling in the Salvadoran camp and his side’s wish to make history in front of their own supporters.
The significance of the Costa Rica game has been lost on nobody in El Salvador. For his part, team coach Juan de Dios Castillo has left nothing to chance with his meticulous preparations, as Alas revealed. “We’re very much at ease, knowing that we’ve prepared diligently for three weeks for this game. With a win on Friday we’ll progress to the next round, and we’re confident we can achieve that,” insisted the captain.
While Alas and Co know they will be facing one of the strongest teams in the region on Friday, they still have grounds for optimism. Back in June in the corresponding away fixture in San Jose, La Selecta came from two goals down to rescue a priceless point in Costa Rica.
In such a high-stakes game, you have to handle the pressure, make as few mistakes as possible and do the job you’ve been prepared for.
“In that game the group knew exactly what it wanted and never gave up,” said Alas. “At two-nil down we found strength from somewhere and managed to get back on terms thanks to intelligent and tidy play. It’s that point that has us in the position we are today.”
In said memorable draw, the captain gave a model display of fight and leadership, just as he aims to do on Friday night in Cuscatlan. “As the team's leader, I have to give 200 per cent in every game and try to give a good example on and off the pitch," said the 27-year-old.
"In such a high-stakes game, you have to handle the pressure, make as few mistakes as possible and do the job you’ve been prepared for. We’re very clear about what we have to do and are feeling composed. We know we can win.”
Maturity and home support
For Alas, one of the keys to beating Los Ticos will be using the ball wisely, a fundamental concept for De Dios Castillo. “The boss has a clear preference for taking just one or two touches and taking the game to opponents,” explained the midfielder. “When we’re in possession we can make things hard for any team, and that’s what we’ll be setting out to do on Friday,” he added.
Of course, the atmosphere will also be a factor. The Estadio Cuscatlan is one of the most intimidating places to visit in Central America and La Selecta hope to use the ‘12th man’ to their advantage. “The Salvadoran fans are very demanding and want to see their side battling it out with the top teams, and that’s very motivating for us. I’ve felt a lot of positivity from them in recent weeks. They all believe we’re going to win, so hopefully we can give them that victory,” said Alas.
That said, the captain feels his players must combine a cool head with fiery passion and not be overly influenced by the crowd or popular opinion. “I know the fans will want us to take the lead in the first minute, but we have to be mature and remain composed during the game. The idea is to heap the pressure on Costa Rica and make the most of our chances so we can send our supporters home happy.”
Rounding off our interview, Alas showed that his ambitions and that of his side are not limited to Friday’s game: “The goal is not just to reach the Hexagonal. If we get that far we’ll have eliminated a very tough rival and taken a big step towards finishing in the top four [and qualifying directly for Brazil or making the intercontinental play-off]. There’s a lot of confidence and harmony in the squad. We all know what we want. and now it all depends on us.”