The Costa Rican national team, the dream of the World Cup and the threat of Spain
Borges fights Rivierez, from Martinique, in the Concafaf Nations League duel on June 5.
Borges fights Rivierez, from Martinique, in the Concafaf Nations League duel on June 5.EZEQUIEL BECERRA (AFP)

A quote from Bartolomé de las Casas, one of the first settlers to arrive in Costa Rica, said that it was a “delightful orchard”. Five centuries later, Celso Borges (San José, 1988), one of the flags of his soccer team confirms that, even in times of uncertainty, we are facing “a country of happy people.” In Costa Rica, the army was abolished in 1949 after a civil war that lasted 44 days. Since then, it boasts of a robust democracy that channels investments towards health and education to bring the rate of life expectancy and literacy to first world levels. But there are not a few who think of the country that football helped to put more lights on the map. In 1990 they debuted in a World Cup and surprised by passing the group stage; in 2006 they played the opening match against Germany; in 2014 only a penalty shootout separated them from the semi-finals. This Tuesday they seek their sixth World Cup participation in a single match duel against New Zealand in Qatar. The winner will be, on November 23 in Doha, Spain’s first rival in the World Cup.

“I prefer not to think about whether we are going to play Spain or Germany and I don’t buy the favorite label to do it either. Perhaps they see us that way because, luckily, we have shown ourselves more than them internationally and we are known more”, warns Borges, back in his country after more than 12 years in four European destinations, including A Coruña and Deportivo . Against New Zealand he will have 150 caps. No one in Costa Rica has played more games with the national team. “I look back and think how lucky I am. That feeling is stronger than that of pride, which also exists, of course. What they say in so many games is that the performance has been very constant, that time passes quickly, but that I also enjoy it”, he explains.

Borges left in 2009 for Norway. He wanted to explore the limits of himself as a footballer and he knew that he had to do it in Europe. He did not care so much about the destination as the fact of landing and starting to make his way at a time when he had also already established himself in the national team: that year he played in a playoff to play the World Cup in South Africa. It was a double game, against Uruguay. Costa Rica was one goal away from the goal. Three other pieces of that team are now guarding weapons in Qatar. The goalkeeper Keylor Navas, the left-back Bryan Oviedo, with a long career in the Premier, and the fine midfielder Bryan Ruiz. Everyone is back at home except the Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper. “Soccer in Costa Rica and, in general, in Concacaf has raised the level a lot to the extent that not only players but also coaches have been able to go to Europe and bring back various methodologies,” Borges emphasizes.

Costa Rica is today a mature team that begins to weave the relay. Navas, Borges, Campbell or Tejeda were in the team that made history in 2014, an appointment that Oviedo missed due to suspension and in which the central Waston was one of the last discarded. The six are seen as starters against New Zealand, but Colombian coach Luis Fernando Suárez, who has already led Ecuador and Honduras to two World Cups, succeeds in giving flight to new litters. “There is a lot of talent on the farms,” ​​says Borges, who sees in the eyes of these boys the will to grow. “They have the illusion of taking over the world and they ask a lot. They want to know what there is beyond local football and veterans also feed on that desire they have. There are new illusions. Like playmaker Brandon Aguilera, who is in Qatar with the national team at the age of 18, or Anthony Contreras, 22, scorer of decisive goals in the epilogue of an octagonal tournament in which the team completed a first round without victories and a second without losses. “We arrived in a context opposite to that playoff in 2009. Then we had the pass in hand after being leaders for many days and we took it as a consolation. Now, we take it as a prize”, estimates Borges.

In that process Costa Rica found its soccer. “In short tournaments we have always done better when we balance ourselves well defensively. The evolution in recent months came as soon as we found solidity and were more aggressive without the ball, ”describes Borges, who continues to maintain his ability to give continuity to the game in midfield and act as a striker; “We have to pay close attention to how we fill the areas, both in defense and attack. New Zealand is a team that knows its strengths and weaknesses very well.”

Despite that lost date in South Africa after the defeat in Montevideo, a victory would put Borges before his third World Cup. And the illusion remains of continuing until the one that will be organized in Concacaf through Mexico, the United States and Canada in 2026. Borges does not set an expiration date, satisfied with the structural development of soccer in his country. But that today he manages in the very short term: “The only thing I have in my eyes is the game against New Zealand”.

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