Costa Rica’s players are in love with the people, and the feeling is mutual. When Los Ticos meet their adoring fans, they don’t do it with heads down, eyes locked on their phones in the all too common pose of the modern footballer. They don’t give stale and unenthusiastic waves or fake their way through. “We love them and they love us,” is how striker Joel Campbell put it.
“The love we’re getting from the fans is so powerful,” Campbell told FIFA.com. “We take that passion and that happiness out onto the pitch with us. It gives us an extra gear.”
The love that tournament revelation Campbell describes is plain to see. Approximately 4,000 Costa Rican fans have travelled from the Central American nation to Brazil so far, some moving with the team from venue to venue over thousands of miles. Others stay put in a city. They unfold their umbrellas and deck chairs and wait for their beloved Ticos to arrive. They interact with locals and import their brand of Pura Vida – a saying in Costa Rica meaning “full of life” – to Brazilian shores.
When the team arrived in Recife, on the northern coast, for what would turn out to be an historic win over four-time world champions Italy, their hotel was mobbed with well-wishers. “We’re here to be with the team; we support them and they give us joy and pride in our country,” said Rodrigo, a fan traveling with his family from Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose. He’s taking time off from work to savour this “once in a lifetime” moment.
The players filed off the team bus to a monumental roar, but not that of worshiper to idol. It sounded more like family, loved ones reuniting after too long apart. Keylor Navas, the team’s goalkeeper, hugged a demanding older woman in the crowd as he might his own mother. “Bravo, Keylor,” the crowd cheered as he stooped to embrace the woman. The Levante keeper smiled and took pictures of the crowd.
“They’re with us through the good times and the bad,” said midfielder Christian Bolanos, the team’s oldest player. And there have been bad times, too. Bolanos was a member of the side that lost all of their games in Germany in 2006 and missed out on South Africa 2010 only after last-second heartbreak in qualifying. “They have traveled a long way, these fans. We are far away from home, but we feel connected with them here.”
Young FIFA World Cup™ debutants Cristian Gamboa and Giancarlo Gonzalez moved past the throng of fans with their camera phones videoing the supporters - who recorded them in return. These CONCACAF minnows are making history in Brazil. Already through to the knockout stages before their final Group D game against England on Tuesday, this is the biggest moment in the history of Costa Rican football.
“Bryan. Bryan! Capitan!” a shout comes from the crowd as Bryan Ruiz, the team’s skipper and scorer of the goal against Italy, wades through the people, smiling shyly. His long neck makes him visible above the heads and his kind eyes absorb the scene. He stops to sign a ball and tousle a little boy’s hair. “Costa Rica is a country that’s crazy for football, but also for life and the good things in it,” said Junior Diaz, the affable winger putting in a star turn in his first World Cup. “We are able to give something back with our play. We feel the passion that they bring to the pitch and to the hotel. It gives us more power.”
With every game Los Ticos play in Brazil, their fan-base grows. It’s not just folks boarding planes back home caught up in the buzz, but locals are joining the party too. Brazilians have fallen in love with Costa Rica’s fast-moving football, togetherness and unity. “The Brazilian people have taken us to their heart,” Bolanos said, clearly moved. This is a man who’s seen much in a long career, but nothing like this. “They've opened their home to us.”