Tears turn to fears as reality bites for Costa Rica

Costa Rica fans celebrate their team's 5-3 penalty shootout victory over Greece (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

WORLD CUP QUARTER-FINAL:
Costa Rica v Netherlands
Eduardo Castillo had never heard his father cry until Sunday.

He called home around four hours after the final whistle in Recife, where the national side had made history by reaching the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time thanks to a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Greece.

At the sound of his voice his father burst into tears. ‘What have we done?’ he asked his son, who is a member of a small and tight-knit Costa Rican press pack. ‘How have we done this?’

It is a scene that is repeated all over San Jose, the capital of a country with a population of just under five million.

The videos of the celebrations show the depth of feeling, particularly one entitled el major dia de mi via (‘the best day of my life’). Focusing on the reactions of the fans to Sunday’s game, it shows the agony and ecstasy in a manner that would melt the coldest heart.

The government have cottoned on to the mood, responding by asking coach Jorge Luis Pinto if the Colombian would do them the honour of taking Costa Rican citizenship.

He has not given them his answer yet, and there are fears he will leave after the tournament; after all, what else is there to be achieved? Yet Pinto is the true star of this team, a coach educated in Brazil and Germany organising them in such a way they are almost impossible to break down.

Few expected anything of them but here they are, still based at Vila Belmira Stadium in Santos, the former home of Pele and Neymar giving them inspiration – particularly when one of Pele’s sons pitches up to watch them train, as happened on Wednesday.

They were supposed to be also-rans but they have defeated Uruguay and Italy, as well as drawing with England, to shock the world.

“We didn’t come here to visit Rio, lie on the beach and be tourists,” says midfielder Celso Borges.

“We came here to compete and I really hope we can create memories for the people back home.

“I don’t know if we are fully understanding what we are doing but I think that [making history] has given us something, and of course we see the pictures and videos of people back home. Whatever the result against Holland we can be proud of what we have done. ”

Bryan Ruiz is the symbol of the team, having come from a very poor background in San Jose, but he is now being rivalled by Joel Campbell, who hails from Limon – a port dominated by immigrants from the Caribbean — in the east.

Then there is Keylor Navas, the goalkeeper. The majority of houses that can afford to now have cable television solely so they can watch his games for Levante, in Spain’s Primera Division. There is talk he will now head to Arsenal or Napoli.

Yet Costa Rica as a team are on their last legs. Oscar Duarte is suspended and Roy Miller injured, depriving Pinto of two members of his first-choice defence. Navas and Campbell will not be allowed to train before the game against Holland due to a shoulder problem and exhaustion. There is a fear of what the Dutch may do to them.

The future is unclear, though. With Pinto likely to leave, his assistants, Luis Marin and Paulo Wanchope, are expected to take over.

Pinto is unlikely to be swayed by the public support for him; after all he still receives some criticism for bringing striker Marco Urena, who plays for Kuban Krasnodar, to the tournament instead of Deportivo Saprissa forward Kendall Watson. Indeed, just a month ago most wanted him sacked.

But now there are videos of 500,000 celebrating on the streets of San Jose and old men crying down the phones to their sons.

Costa Rica are the story of this World Cup, no matter what happens now.

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