Even non-soccer fans were glued to the TV earlier this month, when Costa Rica’s national league La Sele fought long and hard for a coveted final four spot in the FIFA World Cup 2014. Gripping their red, blue and white flags while muttering prayers under their breath, Ticos across the nation (and globe) watched in anticipation as La Sele nearly advanced in the quarterfinals, thanks to an incredible defense. The Brazil stadium was filled with chants of “Oe oe oe. Ticos, Ticos,” but the Dutch national team ultimately prevailed during an anxious 4-3 penalty shootout victory.
This was the first time in 24 years, since La Sele beat Scotland in the 1990 FIFA Italy games, that the country had a World Cup title within their reach. Respected and loved by all, La Sele was unofficially adopted as Brazil’s second team, with local fans wearing Costa Rica jerseys and T-shirts that mocked opposing “group of death” teams from England, Italy and Uruguay. Costa Rica has been labeled one of the best surprises of the 2014 World Cup and has a number of star players, including their 27-year-old goalie, Keylor Navas, who racked up 21 saves in just five matches, earning him the Man of the Match Award three times.
Victory for La Sele, and a warm homecoming
Despite losing to the Netherlands in a knockout round of the tournament, La Sele’s amazing performance earned them a hearty homecoming and bolstered national pride. Thousands gathered at the Juan Santamaria International Airport to greet the team’s plane last week, and a parade truck escorted the players to San Jose for a special closing ceremony. The national team is managed by Jorge Louis Pinto, whose hard work and skill has become increasingly evident. Interestingly, Pinto is one of the lowest paid coaches among World Cup teams, earning a fraction of the typical multi-million dollar salary offered to German, Brazilian and Dutch team managers.
Soccer or futbol – a national Tico pastime
Known in Spanish as “futbol,” soccer is a much celebrated pastime in Costa Rica, with residents of all creeds and socioeconomic backgrounds playing from the time they can walk. The country has several major soccer teams that play regularly and form the national soccer league, including Liga Deportiva Alajuelense, Club Sport Cartagines and Club Sport Herediano. Towns both large and small have at least one grassy soccer field that is usually occupied every Sunday, along with the occasional weekday match.