On 20 June 1990, Costa Rica beat Sweden to advance to the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time. 24 years later to the day, Los Ticos saw off Italy to return to the knockout phase for the first time since, an achievement they topped by then beating Greece to set up a quarter-final with the Netherlands.
There exists a Brazilian link between both campaigns. Forming part of the current Tico side is Celso Borges, the son of Alexandre Guimaraes, who was born in the Brazilian state of Alagoas but ran out for Costa Rica at Italy 1990 and then coached the side at Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006.
Currently in Brazil to watch his son in action, Guimaraes spoke to FIFA.com of the eve of the last-eight tie with the Dutch and gave his thoughts on the development of Costa Rican football over the last two decades.
FIFA.com: You took part in the FIFA World Cup as a player in 1990 and as a coach in 2002 and 2006. Which experience has stayed with you most?
Alexandre Guimaraes: The 1990 World Cup made a big impression on me as it was the one and only world finals I contested as a player. It was the first time Costa Rica reached the last 16 and it had such a big impact on me because I was 30 at the time. I was desperate to go and experience that feeling again, but the only way I could do that was as a coach.
Did you ever imagine that within a few years you would see Costa Rica beating former world champions and fighting for a place in the semi-finals?
No. I don’t think anyone could have guessed this was going to happen. What Costa Rica are doing right now is very hard to achieve. There are a lot of reasons why it’s happened. The coach [Jorge Luis Pinto] has been in the job for a while now and this generation has a lot of talent and hunger. These players have been doing well in Europe for some time and they’ve picked up a lot of valuable experience. They’ve got that inner fire you need as an athlete. Having failed to make South Africa, they were determined to show the world how good they are. There’s also the fact that there’s been continuity from the national youth teams upwards, with most of the team having played together in U-17 and U-20 World Cups. Put all those things together and you can see why they were ready to go and do what they’ve done. Sometimes you get a lucky result because of a lapse by the opposition, but that hasn’t happened here. Costa Rica have deserved all four of the results they’ve had.
This Costa Rica side is very compact and strong in defence, which hasn’t always been the case. What’s changed?
It’s a hallmark of the coach. All the teams he’s coached at club level have been very well organised at the back and well balanced. And after three-and-a-half years with the national team he’s had the time to find that balance. And he’s found it at just the right time.
Has it helped that the World Cup is being held in Brazil?
It helps a lot, and that’s something I can safely say because I’ve spoken at length with my son about it. They had this incredible desire to play in Brazil, the home of football. They wanted to be here to show what they can do, and I think every national team has felt that way, not just them.
As well as a Costa Rica fan, you’re also Celso’s father. How is your heart holding up? Is it tough for you to be a supporter?
Very. It really is a unique experience. I’ve always followed his career, watching games in person or on the internet, but the World Cup is something else. You know what it means to a player. He’s living his dream and you want that dream to be perfect for him, which it has been up to now.
How well do you think he’s doing?
I’m not saying this because he’s my son, but he’s stood up as a leader and he’s setting the tone. He’s the one who dictates the pace for Costa Rica in the midfield, and he’s also a dynamic presence for them, covering every blade of grass. I think he’s showing what he has to offer and he’s maybe even giving himself the chance to step up to a bigger league in Europe [Borges currently plays for AIK in Sweden].
Are you demanding with him? Does he ask you for any special advice?
We talk a lot, but I’m not demanding with him at all because that’s the coach’s job, and he’s pretty demanding with himself anyway. My job is to support him 100 per cent, and that’s what we do when we go to the training camp. My wife and I spend time with him, but without talking that much about football. We talk about the family in Brazil and the messages he’s getting from people.
What’s your feeling about the Netherlands game?
I hope Celso can keep me in the World Cup for another week, even if it means going through all the tension we had in the last game, as long as he wins. My heart can deal with anything.
And what do Costa Rica have to do to win?
Play another perfect game, just as they did against Uruguay, Italy and England. To beat a team like that, the first thing you have to do is play a perfect match. The second is to pay attention to the little details. And the third is to get that little bit of luck you always need.