Take a look at the standings in the CONCACAF Zone’s final six-team qualifying group for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and you will see Costa Rica sandwiched between regional heavyweights Mexico and USA at the top of the table.
Los Ticos have reached that lofty position with a minimum of fuss. After joining the qualifying competition in the previous round and finishing second in Group B, the Costa Ricans went into 2013 determined to atone for their absence at South Africa 2010.
At the start of the year they occupied a modest 66th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, with no fewer than seven local rivals positioned above them, an indication of the task they faced in their bid to reach Brazil.
Much has changed in the few months since then, however. Now 39th overall, having jumped up nine places from June to July, Los Ticos stand above all their CONCACAF neighbours bar the mighty Mexicans and Americans.
Theirs is a rise that owes nothing to miracles but everything to hard work, consistency and ability, qualities they have displayed over the course of what has been a hugely productive year to date.
Slowly but surely
Drawn with Mexico, El Salvador and Guyana in the previous qualifying round, Costa Rica had relatively few problems advancing to the final six-team round, where sterner tests awaited them.
Los Ticos warmed up for the last leg of the Brazil 2014 qualification campaign by contesting the Copa Centroamericana earlier this year and lay in 53rd place in the Ranking as the final phase got under way. After making a faltering start that involved a draw against Panama and a defeat to USA, the Costa Ricans saw off Jamaica in March. That result, coupled with a timely stalemate between the Americans and Mexico, allowed them to take to the top of the section.
It was then, at the beginning of June, that the Central American side picked up the pace, holding El Tri to a noteworthy draw at their Estadio Azteca stronghold and chalking up home wins against Honduras and the Panamanians, proof that their recent rise was no fluke.
Success on the pitch has been reflected by another Ranking climb, with the Costa Ricans moving up to 39th place this month, their highest since September 2009.
Though some way short of their all-time best of 17th, a position they scaled in May 2003 and again in January 2004, their steady climb shows that they are once again a force to be reckoned with on the regional scene.
“It’s very pleasing,” said national team coach Jorge Luis Pinto. “There’s no doubt about it. We’re delighted that we’ve fulfilled the criteria of the people who do the ranking and that we’ve climbed our way up.”
The final straight in the race to Brazil 2014 is approaching fast, and though Costa Rica have a tough run-in with home games against USA and Mexico to come as well as trips to Honduras and Jamaica, Pinto is confident his charges can finish the job off.
“We are fighting hard and I hope we can use our heads and make it happen,” said the coach. “With God and the nation behind us, I hope we get that chance to go to the World Cup. I’m convinced we’re on the right track and we’ll keep on battling.”