After two damaging defeats by CONCACAF rivals Mexico, Costa Rica have lost whatever room for error they enjoyed on the road to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Those setbacks were body blows for Los Ticos, leaving them third in Group B and threatening to derail their campaign before it could properly get underway. As a result, they must now take maximum plunder from their two remaining games, starting in El Salvador on 12 October.
"We didn't start our matches against Mexico well and we have to correct that against El Salvador, especially as we'll be away from home," explained Costa Rica forward Alvaro Saborio, speaking to FIFA.com.
Their top scorer in CONCACAF qualifying with four goals, the USA-based Real Salt Lake marksman was unable to find the net against Los Tricolores, but he feels his side have displayed enough quality so far to justify continued optimism. "We were a lot better in our first two games against Guyana and El Salvador, it has to be said. But we also played some good football against Mexico.
"In the home game, their two goals came from set-pieces, and at their place we were more solid but didn't threaten going forward," said the former Deportivo Saprissa goal machine. "There are positives to take out of those games as we prepare for the two matches to come. We've got what it takes to make the difference and qualify for the six-team group stage [Hexagonal]."
Perhaps crucially for Costa Rica, Saborio will be able to count on support from strike partner Bryan Ruiz in the upcoming contests. The left-footed Fulham forward is back from injury and although his last Premier League goal came all the way back in December of last year, his return has lifted the mood of the squad – with Saborio first in line to welcome him back.
"Bryan is a major player for the national team and we need him," said Saborio. "I love playing with him, even if my approach doesn't change when he's not there. He's full of talent."
Leader and role model
A member of the Costa Rica squad at the 2004 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament and involved again at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Saborio is one of just four players over the age of 30 called up by Colombian Tico coach Jorge Pinto, who has brought a more youthful edge to the side since replacing Ricardo La Volpe in August of last year.
Indeed, this is a period of transition for the six-time Copa Centroamericana champions, who missed out on South Africa 2010 and followed up with further disappointment at the 2011 Copa America and 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, exiting the latter tournament on penalties to Honduras in the quarter-finals. Those results stung badly, but Costa Rica are hopeful of a brighter future, with Pinto able to call upon an enviable supply of young talent.
"Our coach is experienced and he knows football in this region well," said Saborio, all-time record scorer for club side Real Salt Lake, who finished runners-up to Monterrey in last season's CONCACAF Champions League final.
"His analysis and understanding of our opponents in the CONCACAF region are spot on and that's an important basis for building the team's confidence. He's kept things stable since he arrived by bringing in young players. We know they're not experienced, but they're talented and want to go to Brazil, just like us. That's our only goal."
Focusing on that goal has helped the ex-FC Sion man deal with any criticism that comes his way. "It doesn't affect me because I want to stay positive and think about our mutual objectives," he explained, before revealing that he revels in his role as a leader in the squad.
"With all the new younger players, I have to set an even better example. They ask me a lot of questions and listen to me. It's flattering, but it means I have to be the role model they need to improve and reach a new level."
With their backs to the wall in Group B, they could do with Saborio adding to his goal tally as well. Despite their tight situation, Los Ticos can still allow themselves to dream – and Saborio is in the habit of making dreams come true. "When I was a child, my mother understood very quickly that I was going to become a professional footballer, and I made it," he said. "To see my family so proud of me creates a sense of responsibility."