Though his name might not be the first to come up when discussing the virtues of the Costa Rica side that will run out at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, there can be no doubting the importance of Giancarlo Gonzalez to coach Jorge Luis Pinto’s plans.
That much was clear on the road to Brazil, when the centre-half, along with Los Ticos’ star goalkeeper Keylor Navas, spent more time on the pitch than anyone.
Willowy, quick on his feet and effective in the air at both ends of the pitch, the man they call Pipo was a cornerstone of the defensive wall that smoothed Costa Rica’s progress through the Brazil 2014 qualifiers.
Yet while the Central Americans made relatively serene progress in the final Hexagonal round, their path to the knockout rounds at the world finals looks to be anything but easy, not with Uruguay, England and Italy providing the opposition in Group D.
Discussing that onerous challenge in detail, the commanding centre-half sat down for an exclusive chat with FIFA.com.
A solid foundation
You only have to look at Costa Rica’s statistics from the final six-team qualifying round to see the effectiveness of their defence. In their ten games, Los Ticos conceded a mere seven goals, no small achievement considering regional heavyweights Mexico and USA, with their much-vaunted front lines, featured among the opposition.
“The feeling I get is that there’s not such a big difference between teams any more, not just in the CONCACAF Zone, but in general, around the world,” the defender said. “You get some very close scorelines now. The USA and Mexico used to qualify easily, but that just doesn’t happen now. This time around Costa Rica qualified in second place and Mexico struggled, all because the standard is higher now.”
'Organised' and 'intelligent' are the words that Gonzalez uses to describe the style of play that took the Costa Ricans to that second place, with only the Americans above them in the table.
Based in the United States with Major League Soccer's Colombus Crew, the stopper said: “We know how to make the most of our attributes and we are also aware that we’ve got our weaknesses, though we’re looking to address them. We did a good job because we achieved what we set out to do, which was to reach the World Cup.”
The feeling I get is that there’s not such a big difference between teams any more, not just in the CONCACAF Zone, but in general, around the world
As well as a collective triumph, Costa Rica’s qualification for Brazil 2014 also proved a coming of age for the 26-year-old defender.
“El Profe Pinto gave me my chance and I’ve been able to consolidate my place in the team because of that. I feel I’ve made the most of it,” explained Gonzalez, who spent the 2012/13 season with Norwegian club Valerenga. “I also played in Europe while the qualifiers were going on, and I tried to harness the exposure I had there to raise my performance levels with the national team. All in all, it was a very important year for me.”
Eyes on the prize
With Brazil 2014 just days away now, Gonzalez and his Tico team-mates are thinking about nothing else but Uruguay, England and Italy: “This is the ‘group of death’. No one’s under any illusions about that. Our three opponents are all big teams and they’ve all won the World Cup before. But like we said, this is a whole new story. We are going to give it our very best shot, and we’re excited at the prospect of doing well in Brazil and doing our country proud.”
Excited yet committed and dedicated to the task in hand, the Costa Ricans are thinking big, hopeful that they can be one of the surprise packages of the group phase.
“I know my team-mates and how much work we’re putting in,” said the defensive mainstay. “I’m confident in my qualities and those of the team as a whole. We’re going to give everything to make the next round. That’s what we want to do: make history. Italy 1990 was the only time we’ve managed it, but this team knows all about setting and achieving goals.”
And on a personal level, Gonzalez could not be more motivated: “This is what every professional footballer aspires to: to play in a World Cup. And what better place to do it in than a football country like Brazil?”