Everyone loves a finisher, the kind of player who appears in the right place at the right time to put the ball away, a knack they often show on the big occasion. There is not a coach who does not yearn to have such a player at their disposal, for very often they make all the difference between finishing first and coming second.

Costa Rica are fortunate to have one such matador in their ranks, the 26-year-old Marcos Urena, whose speed and coolness in front of goal have proved vital for Los Ticos in recent years, during which they have more than exceeded the expectations of their adoring fans.

Glory days
The front man has proved his worth on the biggest stage of all, as he himself explained to FIFA.com in recalling the group match between Costa Rica and Uruguay in Fortaleza at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, which saw him make a decisive contribution after his side had taken a 2-1 lead: “I hadn’t been on the pitch for long, but I knew they were having a job defending the space behind them, which is exactly where I wanted to go. I set off, Joel Campbell played me the perfect pass and all I had to do was beat the keeper.”

That goal, his side’s third of the day, sealed one of the most important wins in the history of Costa Rican football to that point and added no little lustre to Urena’s reputation, which he polished further by scoring the winner against Panama in a CONCACAF qualifier for Russia 2018 last November.

Being where he needs to be is a skill that Urena has had to work on, as he explained in revealing the secret of his success: “You have to be focused the whole time, and if you get the call to go on, there’s no time to waste. You also have to know your team-mates strengths and the opposition’s weaknesses. We’d already practised that goal against Uruguay. We played a warm-up game against [Republic of] Ireland and Campbell played exactly the same pass to me, which led to a penalty on that occasion.”

The telepathy and understanding La Sele showed in Brazil has once again been a hallmark of their ongoing bid to qualify for Russia 2018. With wins in their opening two matches of Round 4, Los Ticos have gone some way to easing the nerves of their fans, who have been less than happy with the side’s performances since their memorable Brazilian adventure.

“We’ve never had any doubts, though there’s no question our form wasn’t what it was at the World Cup,” said the forward, who plays his club football for Danish side Midjytlland. “Paulo Wanchope came in as coach and made a few tactical changes for the Gold Cup, which didn’t work out. Now we’ve got a new coach in Oscar Ramirez, who’s gone back to the tactics we like to play and has restored the confidence we needed as a team.”

No easy games
Next up for Los Ticos is a double header against Jamaica in March. Victory in those two games would secure them a place in the final six-team group in the CONCACAF Zone, though Urena is taking nothing for granted against the Reggae Boyz, who lie third in Group B: “We played them in the Gold Cup and we had to fight hard for a draw. Most of their players are based in England and they’re very strong and quick. We need to make sure we don’t give the ball away cheaply and let them counter-attack, which is what they did to us in that game.”

Nevertheless, Urena knows that Costa Rica, with their new-found reputation, will be expected to win. “Our opponents definitely look at us differently now,” he said. “They give everything they’ve got when they play us. No one sees us as underdogs any more. Just look at the draw for the Copa America, in which we were drawn against Paraguay, USA and Colombia. Everyone said it was a very tight group.”

The best could be yet to come for Costa Rica. With a clutch of stars based in Europe and a solid core of players who have been together for years, Los Ticos can continue to aim high.

“There’s Bryan Ruiz, who’s in the form of his life, while Keylor Navas has bided his time and is now showing why Real Madrid bought him, and Joel Campbell is finally getting the opportunities he needed at Arsenal,” said Urena. “They’re role models and a source of motivation for the rest of us. They are where they are because of their performances with La Sele, and that spurs us on to give our best and try and follow in their footsteps.”

In seeking to do that, the smiling Urena will continue to lend his instinctive finishing skills to the Tico cause: “The squad and the coaches know they can rely on me. They know I can pop up with a winner at any time.”