While most people in northern Europe long to bask on sun-drenched beaches in a warmer climate, Costa Rica international Cristian Gamboa gladly left such an idyll behind in his homeland to embark on a career on the Old Continent in summer 2010.
“My first impression was that everything in Europe and Norway was so organised,” the smiling 23-year-old recalled of his arrival in Fredrikstad in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “The players work in a professional environment and the fans are amazingly supportive of their team.”
Despite the favourable conditions, life was initially tough for Gamboa when he began at top flight side FFK. “You have to start completely from scratch with a new language, a new culture and without all the friends and family you’ve left behind. However, if you want to make the dream of playing in Europe come true then you just have to accept those things.”
To Norway and back
The defender has now settled in Europe, although not at his original port of arrival. After a year in Fredrikstad, Gamboa moved to Danish side FC Copenhagen, but was packing his bags again 12 months later when Norwegian record champions Rosenborg secured his services.
“I’m very happy in Trondheim. I love the club and the people have made me feel extremely welcome. I want to win titles here and participate in European competition.” Nevertheless, Gamboa’s aim of playing in one of the world’s strongest leagues could lead to another change of scenery in the future.
A Barcelona fan and admirer of Dani Alves, Gamboa is aware that international football is the best shop window to pave the way for a possible move to England or Spain.
Gamboa has donned the Costa Rica shirt 14 times since making his debut in 2010 and scored his first goal in October 2012 in a 7-0 victory over Guyana. “It was incredible. The stadium was packed and we won the game,” he said. “My goal came at a great time for me as I’d still been called up to the team despite having had a bad year in Copenhagen. It was the perfect way of showing I was ready for a comeback.”
He has been a regular in Los Ticos squad ever since and is eager to participate at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Yet the four points gleaned from three qualifying games so far has left plenty to be desired. “I’d be satisfied if we had nine points, but having said that, our campaign has started well because we’re second in the standings and have only played one home game. We’ve got what it takes to get to Brazil and I’m optimistic that we’ll make it.”
Costa Rica will get the chance to prove that in approximately three weeks, with matches against Honduras (7 June) and Mexico (11 June) lined up. “They’re two of the most important games in qualifying because those teams are the favourites to reach the World Cup and both made it to the last finals. If we win we’ll be a step closer to Brazil.” A week later on 18 June, Gamboa and Co will test themselves against current group leaders Panama.
Brazil 2014 would be Gamboa’s second taste of a global tournament after featuring at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2009. “That was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. We weren’t among the favourites and no one thought we would get anywhere. We started terribly against Brazil [a 5-0 defeat] but we pulled ourselves together after that.”
Subsequent victories over Australia (3-0), Egypt (2-0) and United Arab Emirates (2-1 after extra time) thrust the Central Americans into the semi-finals. However, A Seleção proved too strong again in the last-four rematch, although the 1-0 scoreline was more respectable. Further disappointment followed as Hungary won the third place play-off after a penalty shoot-out, following a 1-1 draw.
“We were so proud of ourselves as it was the first time Costa Rica had finished in the top four at a World Cup,” said Gamboa, who went the full distance in six of his country’s games at the tournament, only missing the semi-final due to suspension. Talk of a Costa Rican ‘golden generation’ ensued, but only few of Gamboa’s team-mates joined him in making the step up to the senior side.
“I come from a small club in Costa Rica [Municipal Liberia] and if anyone asked me if I’ve fulfilled my own expectations so far I’d say yes. One of my aims was to play in Europe, which I’ve done. I’m happy about that but I still have other objectives and I’ll do everything I can to achieve them.”