Milinton Tijerino, 24, is a rising star of Costa Rican futsal
Has his sights set on reaching the last 16 at Lithuania 2021
“We are the top dogs in our region.”
Up until a couple of months ago, Milinton Tijerino used to spend his mornings working at a warehouse in Costa Rica, doing a little bit of everything. When the evenings came around, however, he pulled on the jersey of the country’s futsal team and went to train with just one thought in his mind: achieving success with Costa Rica.
“Futsal teams are having a tough time of it here economically,” he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “There are four or five top teams that can afford to pay wages, though it’s still not enough to live on. You have to go and do another job to make ends meet.
“I was lucky enough to have a boss who was flexible about giving me time off,” he continued. “I had to get permission to play in tournaments or qualifiers and he always supported me. He liked futsal a lot too and didn’t have a problem about me missing work. Some of my team-mates have to get the national football association to write to their employers asking for the time off.”
A skilful, charismatic player with a gift for dribbling, Tijerino is one of the main reasons why Costa Rica fans are dreaming of big things at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™.
“I hope it doesn’t sound bad but we are the strongest team in the Concacaf Zone,” said Tijerino. “We are the top dogs there at the moment. A lot of hard work has gone into winning these three titles [three consecutive regional championships] and we’ve put Costa Rica right at the top.
“The Costa Rican Football Association started it all off. They’ve just built a gym for us with a court and everything, which means we now have the freedom to train whenever we want. And as we all know, the more you practice, the better the results.”
Unlike many futsal players, Tijerino always knew it was the game he wanted to play. “I spent my whole childhood and teenage years playing it. I tried 11-a-side for a year but it’s not for me. I love 11-a-side and I support Real Madrid, but I’m used to being on a much smaller pitch, spending a lot more time on the ball and getting really involved. So thanks, but futsal is the game for me.”
Tijerino’s family, and his father in particular, have always given him their unconditional support, mindful of the fact that sport was as good a way as any of keeping him out of trouble and away from drugs.
It did not take long for success to come the player’s way. In 2020, aged just 23, he attracted interest from French clubs, bringing his dream of playing in Europe within touching distance. “Everyone knows how hard it is to play in Europe,” Tijerino explained. “It’s very hard for Tico players because they don’t have European passports, so they have to stand out even more to get a deal.”
As he went on to explain, however, the Covid-19 pandemic quickly brought him back down to earth:
“I got there [France] and the country seemed to have the whole pandemic thing under control. I played in a few friendlies and then the government just shut all sporting activity down. I had so much to give. Having to come back was such a letdown.”
Tijerino has since got over his disappointment and continues to do what he loves most: playing futsal. No sooner had he helped Costa Rica book their place at Lithuania 2021 than he got a call from Poland, where he will shortly resume his European career.
For the moment, though, Tijerino is fully focused on staying fit and giving his all at Lithuania 2021, which is why he has now left his job at the warehouse and is devoting all his time to futsal. Looking ahead to the World Cup, where Costa Rica will contest the opening match, he said: “I have to admit that we wanted to be in Lithuania’s group all along. Costa Rica also played the opening match at the World Cup in Thailand and my team-mates said it was an amazing experience. So that’s what we wanted: the opening ceremony and the whole world watching the game.”
The stage is set for Costa Rica to break new ground in Lithuania. Despite their achievements in the Concacaf Zone, the Central Americans have yet to get past the last 16 at a FIFA Futsal World Cup.
As Tijerino explained, they are looking to show the world why they are the dominant force at a regional level and that they have what it takes to go global: “We’ve got a good mix of new faces and players with World Cup experience. We’re hungry for success. We want to do well and we want to listen to our experienced players. We see ourselves as a family because we see each other nearly every day.”
Though he is on a high right now, he has not forgotten about his people and the youngsters of Costa Rica. Every dribble he goes on, every goal he scores and every World Cup he plays is a message that genuine happiness lies in hard work and consistency and not in ephemeral pleasures of drug dependency.
“I’m living a dream right now,” he said. “It’s great that kids see that and know that it can be done, that if you put love, commitment and dedication into your futsal, then you can go far.”