Following Friday’s 1-0 defeat of four-time World Cup champions Italy, there was little doubt left that the biggest surprise of this tournament was tiny nation of Costa Rica.
In just their fourth FIFA World Cup appearance, los Ticos have already navigated through the tournament’s most difficult group, besting the Italians as well as earning a 3-1 victory over Uruguay last Saturday.
While he always had belief in his national side, Costa Rican international Gonzalo Segares admitted surprise with maximum points from the team’s first two matches.
“We’re definitely in one of the toughest groups with three ex-World Champions,” he said on Saturday’s episode of Chicago Fire Weekly on ESPN 1000. “I knew we had very good qualifiers and the coach [Jorge Luis Pinto] has done a great job to have a pretty competitive team.
The best teams they played against were the U.S. and Mexico so it was hard to compare them with the better teams at a higher level.”
With their shock win over the Azzuri Friday, Costa Rican had qualified for the knockout round for just the second time and first since their debut appearance in 1990. In that tournament, Costa Rica defeated Scotland 1-0, lost by the same score to Brazil, before defeating Sweden 2-1 to finish second in the group.
Just seven years old at the time, Segares , who has been capped 19 times, said he remembers that tournament well. While it was a huge accomplishment in 1990, he thinks what the current Costa Rican side has done already makes this tournament the nation’s best ever showing.
“The 1990 World Cup meant a lot to Costa Rica but the group we went against was easier. The guys in Brazil have beaten two World Cup champions and have a chance to win this group if we can draw with England.”
(Bryan Ruiz celebrates his game-winner vs. Italy / Action Images)
With just over 4.5 million people, Costa Rica is the fourth smallest nation at this year’s World Cup but despite their size and opposition, Segares said expectations were always high for the team going in.
“They have very high expectations. For me, the way they’re playing they look very motivated and I’m convinced they can have two or three more games there. I hope they can keep breaking records. The farthest we have gone is the second round, so I’m hoping they can break that record and go even to the third or fourth round. Why not?”
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Costa Rica’s success combined with the early results from Mexico (win over Cameroon, draw vs. Brazil) and the USA (win vs. Ghana) mean that the CONCACAF region is 4-2-1 at the tournament and could have three of its four teams advance to the knockout round.
“It definitely shows how well and how much the level of CONCACAF has grown,” said Segares. I’m very happy that FIFA has given the opportunity of having 3.5 spots in the World Cup. We’re proving this region has a lot of quality in it at this tournament.”