A month ago, Costa Rica delighted their fans with a remarkable 2-2 friendly draw with world champions Spain. The Central Americans’ goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, left the pitch highly satisfied with the result, and during his return journey to La Liga outfit Levante was even congratulated for his performance by Iker Casillas, his Spain counterpart and winner of the adidas Golden Glove at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
“I felt pretty comfortable during the match and was pleased by his comments," Navas told FIFA.com. "When the work that you put in is recognised, it makes you feel very proud. It’s a tough job that requires lots of time and effort.”
Navas would have been particularly content with his first-half display, during which his goal remained intact, despite numerous attempts by David Villa and Co. But by the final whistle he had conceded two goals. “Each one of us tried to give our all, but we can’t forget that we were playing Spain, who are not just any old team," said the man who was named top goalkeeper at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2009. "They really fought hard to get back in the game.”
On the verge of turning 25, Navas is currently experiencing something of a professional paradox. While enjoying first-team status with his national team, he has had to settle for a place on the bench at Levante.
“When I meet up with the national squad I have to completely change my mindset,” he explained candidly. “Obviously they’re different roles, but I still try to give 100 per cent and work just as hard in both situations."
At Levante, it is the form of Uruguayan keeper Gustavo Munua that has blocked Navas’s path to first-team football so far. “It’s a bit complicated. My team-mates have been doing well, and I try to train hard and always make sure I’m well prepared, so that I’m ready to react should an opportunity arise,” stated Navas, who played in the Spanish second division last year with Albacete, following a move from Costa Rican heavyweights Deportivo Saprissa.
The words of his coach, Juan Ignacio Martinez, should offer him some encouragement. “Sooner or later he’ll get to take centre-stage, because he’s been training so well,” said the 47-year-old Spaniard.
Navas continued: “I try to show that I’m fit and that I’m ready should they ever need me. Right now I have to wait, but it’s always nice to see that I’ve got some support. I just need to be patient and wait for the right moment.”
For the moment, he is content to enjoy the fine form shown by his team, who, with 15 matchdays gone, currently occupy an unexpected fourth place in the table, a position that would offer access to the preliminary round of the UEFA Champions League.
Navas commented: "We’re very happy about what we’ve achieved. It’s been difficult, but these points that we’ve gained will help us to remain in this division, which is our real goal. The players fight really hard, and it’s very rewarding to find ourselves in this position.”
Conejo advice, Brazil aim
Paradoxically, Navas is seen as a role model back home, since he has managed to make the great leap to playing in Europe: “It’s a huge responsibility, because you’re flying the flag for Costa Rica and that could open the door for some of your compatriots. Personally, I’m overjoyed to have been given this opportunity, which I hope to be able to make the most of.”
Costa Rica are embarking upon a new adventure under the tutelage of Jorge Luis Pinto, who has taken over at the helm from Ricardo La Volpe, who lasted barely a year in the role. “The new coach has been trying to analyse each player to get the most out of his qualities. It’s a long process but we’re building a good squad,” confirmed Navas, who is close to breaking the 30-cap barrier for his country.
After the disappointment of losing to Uruguay in a play-off for a place at South Africa 2010, the Costa Ricans have now turned their focus to the next big challenge: qualifying for Brazil 2014. Los Ticos have been placed in a tricky group featuring Mexico, El Salvador and a surprising Guyana side.
“All of our opponents will be tough," Navas said. "The matches will be hard-fought, but what great challenges. Before, there was perhaps more of a difference in quality between teams in our zone, but now all of the sides are extremely well prepared and none can be seen as amateurs any longer. None of these matches are going to be easy, and the team that makes the fewest mistakes should emerge on top.”
Cutting down on individual errors is something he has been concentrating on in training, by following the pointers of national goalkeeping coach and Costa Rican idol Luis Gabelo Conejo. “We trust each other and get on well," Navas revealed. "He’s taught me a lot. He’s been a very important figure in my career. He feels that I’m well suited to the position, but that I need to keep putting in the work to improve as a player."
If Navas follows that excellent advice, appropriate for the football pitch as well as for life in general, his wish for first-team football at Levante should not be long in materialising.