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Jun 24, 2014

Ticos fans celebrate 'heavyweight' win

Fans in San Jose celebrate Costa Rica's first trip to the Round of 16 since 1990.
Fans in San Jose celebrate Costa Rica's first trip to the Round of 16 since 1990.

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- The game ended and the people left whatever television or radio they'd found and headed into the streets of San Jose. A light mist fell. A circle of fans held each other's shoulders and jumped up and down in the rain.

"Where are they?" they chanted. "Where are they? Those motherf-----s who were supposed to beat us! WHERE ARE THEY? WHERE ARE THEY? THOSE MOTHERF-----S ..."

Fog hung over the peaks of the volcanoes. People blocked traffic in the center of town and the drivers didn't mind, leaning out their windows to join in the noise. The two hours after Costa Rica tied England 0-0 and officially moved out of the group stage of the World Cup were a kind of dream. It's a rare gift to witness the community and joy that followed the fans from the yellow theater outside Parque Central toward the raised overpass of the city's bypass loop. Everyone flooding down Second Avenue. Most of them were young, under 25, not nearly old enough to remember the last time Costa Rica advanced to the second round.

Some people just stood back and took it all in, the buzzing sound in the distance raising the hair on their arms. Those who were old enough remembered the 1990 Ticos who made it to the second round in Italy, and who have been living as folk heroes in Costa Rica ever since. The nation basically stopped functioning to celebrate them, and people who saw that party compared it with this one raging before them.

"I feel now is more," said 48-year-old fan Jesus Bolanos. "Because of how they are playing. They are playing even better. People are a lot more excited, and the rivals are heavyweights. We beat Italy and beat Uruguay."

The police blocked the street two blocks out and people walked. Fans blew horns and beat on big bass drums and tight snares. One guy clanged away on a cowbell, because that's what the party needed. More cowbell. Up close, the sound registered as just noise, the mid-range hum drowning all but the deepest whack of a drum, or the highest scream of a horn. It was just loud. The bleating and banging had a familiar pattern, similar to the first four bars of "Gonna Fly Now."

Tiny little dots of paper, homemade confetti, swirled around and dropped to earth, mixing with the rain, the water turning the dots translucent. Teenagers threw entire bags in each others' faces, laughing and spitting out mouthfuls of dots. Many people held Imperial tall boys in their hands, and every now and then, a blast of weed smoke passed your nose.

At the intersection, where a right took you back into the heart of town, and a left took you to the volcano, a woman set up a grill beneath a Corona umbrella and sold pinchos -- skewers of barbecued chicken, glazed with a sweet sauce, with a tortilla skewered on top as a napkin and a fork. A growing group of boys, and some men acting like boys, kicked a soccer ball around, laughing and cheering the best and worst plays.

Someone waved a homemade flag with a Rolling Stones logo painted on it, the tongue painted like the Costa Rican flag. An ice cream vendor rang bells made of car keys.

Mostly, people smiled, and laughed, and hugged each other. The drunk and the famished headed into the Central Market, past the butchers and fish mongers and shop keepers selling pots and pans to find a lunch counter serving thin grilled steak or fresh ceviche. Every table had a squeeze bottle of hot sauce. A waitress made a face when asked if she'd had to work during the game.

"Mas o menos," she said, grinning.

Horns honked everywhere, and in the streets of San Jose, a tension building for 24 years found its release, in handfuls of confetti, in hips swaying to drums, in skewers of meat and in cold cans of the favorite local beer. Costa Rica has made it out of a group built to destroy upstart dreams, and all over the country, on the beaches and in the rain forests and in the urban plazas of the capital, people celebrated proof that, for a day, the way they felt about themselves inside was backed up by a result.