It was with aching feet and heavy legs that Costa Rica’s players trod the corridors of the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador late on Saturday evening, following 240 minutes of football and two penalty shoot-outs in the last week.
Their sadness at being eliminated from Brazil 2014 by the Netherlands was evident as they limped along. Yet in spite of it all, there is still plenty for Los Ticos to feel positive about. After all, no other side in the competition can say that they beat Uruguay, Italy and Greece. Nor did the Costa Ricans lose a single game in the tournament, their run only being ended by the Dutch on penalties with the semi-finals tantalisingly in sight.
Asked by FIFA.com to summarise his side’s tournament from their opening win against the Uruguayans to a narrow exit, a defiant Michael Umana said: “The whole world knows who Costa Rica are now. I think this team has achieved an awful lot for football in our country.”
Flying the CONCACAF flag
24 years have passed since the Central American side last reached the knockout phase, with their campaigns at Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006 ending all too early. As central defender Giancarlo Gonzalez explained, the current crop of Ticos were determined right from the start to set that record straight.
“We wanted to surprise the world and Costa Rica too. We wanted to make history and I feel we’ve achieved that with everything we’ve done,” said the centre-half, the heartbeat of a defence that conceded just two goals in five games at Brazil 2014.
He added: “We’ve earned the support of the Brazilian fans, who ended up identifying with the way we play, and the backing of the fans who came all the way from home to watch us. They gave 100 per cent in the stands and we put in the same effort on the pitch.”
Not only did the Costa Ricans go further than they have ever managed before, they also outlasted their CONCACAF rivals, who either fell in the group phase or the Round of 16, not that Los Ticos are comparing themselves with anyone, as Umana explained.
“We didn’t come here to compete with USA, Mexico or any other CONCACAF team,” he said. “We came to do our job, and we wanted to achieve our goals.” Team captain Bryan Ruiz shared that view: “We’re going home happy because of what we’ve done, not because we managed to go further than the rest.”
The whole world knows who Costa Rica are now. I think this team has achieved an awful lot for football in our country.
While every player who takes part in a FIFA World Cup™ dreams of lifting the Trophy, Jorge Luis Pinto’s men are satisfied nevertheless to have charted new territory.
“I’m not happy about being knocked out, but I’m going home at ease in my mind,” explained Gonzalez. “When you start winning, you just want to carry on. But I’m leaving safe in the knowledge that the team gave their all.”
Offering his parting thoughts, Umana said: “The fact is we had high hopes of having a great World Cup and we managed to achieve a lot of our initial objectives. We know we put in a great performance today, but unfortunately we won’t be going all the way. Football’s like that, though, and sometimes you lose.”
As they shuffled around the stadium, Umana’s team-mates sought to lift each other’s spirits. Yet while their Brazilian adventure has come to an end, they are well aware that much has changed for them in the last month.
Having the final word, the inspirational Gonzalez said: “We know how winning feels now, and we wanted to go all the way to the end. We’ve got young players, we’re going to work hard and we’ll be back in Russia.” As the credits roll on this stirring Tico tale, their many fans can take comfort from the fact that the final words on the screen are not "The End" but "To be continued".