There’s something unnerving when you agree to write about a topic you know little-to-nothing about. I’ve chosen Costa Rica, primarily because I’m sick of the main teams that will be competing in this World Cup. Who cares what team wins? Do we really want to see flowing end-to-end moves from overpaid stars taking advantage of a global shop window in order to raise their game enough to move to a bigger club? Are we still sick of tiki-taka, or have we revised our view, based on the softening of memory due to the passing of time since the last tournament.
Exhaustion is a central part of any World Cup: exhaustion with the sheer number of teams, the many fixtures and the endless opinions followers of the tournament are forced to adopt.
What to say about Costa Rica, a team that are solidly second tier in terms of South American football and seem destined to be ejected from the World Cup at the group stages? That they could cause problems for England.
They could fucking beat England, I’m telling you.
Say England get a point from each of their first two games, against Italy and Uruguay – say they even get four points, perhaps beating Italy. They’ll still need to beat Costa Rica, and that, my friends, would be a potentially interesting game. I might even switch on my telly to watch that one.
Fucking sport. Fucking football. Tournaments are the Noelrock of football – you might initially like some of the music, but then you suddenly find out you’ve bought into a dubious movement and you find yourself up the front at a Seahorses gig convincing yourself they’re superior to the Stone Roses. Then when you see members of Cast having a pint you consider going up to them and telling them one of their songs was good. You’re basically in a cult. There’s no way out. Who cares how Honduras against Ecuador might go on 20th June in Curitiba? I MIGHT CARE! I don’t know yet. I’m hoping I don’t. Chris Evans’s TFI Friday had to end at some point, and so does an international football tournament. Noelrock arguably began exhilaratingly in humble venues and ended in tears at giant, hugely alienating football stadia – as with the World Cup.
But, I suppose that if you’re going to have any real interest in the World Cup you’re probably going to have to concentrate on the smaller teams. In this way, Costa Rica are intriguing enough.
Costa Rica is tucked between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south on the Central American isthmus, and the country’s population, 4.6 million, is pretty much identical in size to that of the Republic of Ireland. Plus Costa Rica have been to more World Cups than the Republic (1990, when they progressed to the round of 16, 2002, 2006 and now 2014).
They came second behind the USA in qualification and their results indicate a decent defence, although it becomes a little more difficult when you begin to look for potential goal scorers. Their first choice centre-forward, Álvaro Saborío, is injured. In his place, Costa Rica will look to the pace of Arsenal’s Joel Campbell, who has just spent a reasonable season at Olympiakos, and to Bryan Ruiz, known to casual viewers of the Premier League for his spectacular goals for Fulham. Ruiz spent the second half of last season on loan to PSV Eindhoven, where he seems to have regained some of the scoring form he showed at previous clubs Gent and Twente. (Everton’s Bryan Oviedo, who can play as a winger or a defender, broke his leg during a fourth round FA Cup tie against Stevenage. It was hoped that he’d be fit for the World Cup, but he isn’t.)
So Costa Rica must pose at least some threat to England.
They have an interesting stadium too – the National Stadium of Costa Rica, a 35,000 capacity ground in a park in the capital San José. It somewhat resembles Bolton’s Reebok Stadium – with perhaps a little of the magic of Gateshead Stadium (a wide running track surrounds the pitch) – and is the outcome of agreements between Costa Rica and the government of China. The latter funded the construction of the stadium in its entirety, a gift supplied once Costa Rica cast off diplomatic links with Taiwan. The banality of the stadium, then, masks the politics that made it possible.
As a ticket into the estranging world of global mass entertainment, the new National Stadium has been highly effective: within a couple of weeks of it opening at the end of March 2011, Shakira played there. Since then, Miley Cyrus, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Whitesnake and Judas Priest.
Most football supporters will never know what it’s like to see their team win something, especially not the World Cup. The trajectory, the narrative – these things matter little. Instead we go to big stadia to see empty shows and we hope that it doesn’t rain.
Posted by Karl Whitney