It was no ordinary Sunday in Costa Rica, not with the national team qualifying for the last eight of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, further than they have ever gone before.
From the early hours of the morning the atmosphere in streets, houses and meeting places throughout the land was electric. Chants of “Oé oé oé. Ticos, Ticos” could be heard everywhere as a tide of red shirts swept across a country that is, today at least, unquestionably the happiest one in the world.
Big screens had been put up in cities such as Alajuela, San Jose and Cartago, bringing together thousands fans who experienced every sensation in a pulsating two hours of football that brought the whole of Costa Rica to a standstill.
The country’s four million inhabitants began the day full of confidence that their side could break new ground and go even further than the fabled Tico side of Italy 1990, their optimism only increasing as the kick-off neared.
“Costa Rica will win 2-0. We’re going to make history today,” shouted one excitable Tico fan decked out in the national colours, his face painted red, white and blue. Others were even more confident about their team’s chances: “5-0. Today we’re going to show the world who Costa Rica are.”
Family and friends gathered at private houses, and with the game kicking off at 14:00, it was time for fans to put some meat on the grill, prepare some gallo pinto – the national rice and bean dish – and get right behind La Sele as if they were in Recife.
“It’s crazy. We’ve been planning for this for the last two days. We’ve got family and friends here and everyone’s wearing the red shirt,” said Kenneth Villalobos, as he contemplated the festive scenes at his house.
The pain and the pleasure
The Parque Juan Santamaria in Alajuela was full to capacity, with around 2,000 people crammed into the confines of the park, where a big screen had been specially erected. All eyes were fixed firmly on it when the match kicked off, the crowd collectively holding their breath whenever the Greece goal came under threat.
As the Tico players stroked the ball around, chants of “Yes we can” went up, chants that turned to full-throated cheers when captain Bryan Ruiz put the Central Americans ahead. They could be heard right across the country’s seven provinces, as people hugged each other and jumped for joy. “That’s the first!” people shouted in celebration.
Those celebrations were cut short by Greece’s late equaliser, as a nation’s joy turned to anguish. Extra time came and went, and then it was on to penalties, a test of the players’ nerves and confidence, and that of the fans too.
“Light them up, please,” prayed a woman with tears in her eyes. Costa Rica’s first four penalty takers did not disappoint, while the country knew they could trust in goalkeeper Keylor Navas to do his bit. After a wondrous season with Levante in Spain, Navas came up with a superb reflex save to put Los Ticos on the brink. And when the winning penalty went in, the party got started.
The Fuente de la Hispanidad in the capital San Jose was the epicentre of the celebrations, while streets up and down the land turned bright red as fans waved flags and shouted “Yes we could!” at the top of their voices.
“We want more. We want the Netherlands,” were the cries from cars as supporters partied as if there were no tomorrow.
But there was a tomorrow, and when Monday dawned there were jobs to go to and work to be done, only this time no one was being reprimanded for arriving late, for swapping their uniform for the national team shirt or for talking about nothing else but football.
With the intrepid Ticos making history in Brazil, it was a Monday like no other in Costa Rica.