Just a few short months ago, Costa Rica’s Celso Borges did not hesitate when telling FIFA.com, in an exclusive interview, that reaching the FIFA World Cup™ finals was a lifelong dream. Though the 25-year-old midfielder was aware that securing a spot at the next edition at Brazil 2014 would not be easy, his determination to achieve that goal was there for all to see.
And now, Los Ticos are one of ten national teams to have booked their ticket for the showpiece event on Brazilian soil. With two matchdays remaining, Costa Rica's 15-point tally has them in second in the six-team Hexagonal final round of North, Central America and Caribbean Zone qualifying and seven clear of fourth place – whose occupants will have to navigate the Intercontinental play-offs.
With Costa Rica still in dreamland after guaranteeing a return to FIFA's flagship event, having missed out on South Africa 2010, FIFA.com spoke to Celsinho, an instrumental figure in their recent success.
Making things right
“This feels really satisfying. More than anything, it feels almost like setting the record straight after what happened in qualifying for South Africa ,” said the AIK Stockholm star, part of the Tico squad edged out by Uruguay in the Intercontinental play-offs four years ago.
“I can’t say whether this is the greatest achievement of my career because it’s not over yet, but without doubt it’s one of those important landmarks that you never forget,” said Borges, who represented his country at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005 and the FIFA U-17 World Cup Canada 2007. “This achievement is the reward for all the sacrifices I’ve made: leaving my family behind to go and play in Europe, adapting to a new way of life and making all those gruelling long-distance trips.
“But the whole country is really happy because we managed to achieve a goal that we’ve had to work really hard for,” he added. Indeed, after Los Ticos took part at Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006, failing to appear at the 2010 event was a body blow to the team and their fans.
We’re aiming to maintain this level of intensity. We’ve not taken our foot off the pedal: whenever the squad comes together, we work very intensively.
What's more, Borges believes that the road to a FIFA World Cup is now tougher than ever, thanks to overall standards rising and an ever greater level of parity among CONCACAF nations. “Everything is that much harder now, which makes qualifying an even more worthy achievement,” said the former Deportivo Saprissa man.
“You can see how every team fights so hard and that matches which used to be a foregone conclusion aren’t anymore. Nowadays you can’t afford as many mistakes because all the teams are stronger. Fortunately we’ve been consistent enough to book our place with two games to spare.”
That consistency is borne out in Los Ticos’ results in the Hexagonal, Costa Rica losing just one of eight games so far, with the fewest goals conceded (five) and the most goals scored (11). “The keys are our squad spirit and making our home stadium a real fortress,” he said.
“Winning all our home games and the 12 points that come from that gave us a really solid foundation. That’s complimented by a united, stable and healthy group of players, overseen by a coaching staff that are doing a good job.”
Next stop Brazil
Qualification now in the bag, Costa Rica will need to avoid resting on their laurels if they wish to repeat their best FIFA World Cup performance to date: reaching the Round of 16 at Italy 1990. “We’re aiming to maintain this level of intensity. We’ve not taken our foot off the pedal: whenever the squad comes together, we work very intensively,” said Borges.
“The group’s really clicked and everybody gets along well. It’d be great if we could better the feats of ’90, but that’ll be very tough,” added the player, on a campaign when Los Ticos finished second in Group C on Italian soil before being knocked out by the former Czechoslovakia.
“We’ve got a very good generation of players and we’re going to be in very good shape come next year’s World Cup,” said Borges, looking ahead to Brazil 2014. “We’re aiming to make our own slice of history,” he concluded.