Standing on the brink of glory
Costa Rica arrived in Brazil with one goal in mind -- survive the group of former champions and advance to the knockout round. They passed the test with flying colours, finishing first in a group with Uruguay, Italy and England.
Now they're on to task No. 2 -- outdo the success of the 1990 World Cup team. La Sele stand on the precipice of achieving that second aim as they enter Recife, Brazil, as favourites against Greece on Sunday.
- Costa Rica vs. Greece: 50-50 Challenge
This year's squad is writing a new chapter in Costa Rica football history after the country had been stuck retelling the old one for more than two decades. Coincidentally, a biopic on the 1990 team debuted in cinemas in the country a couple of weeks before the tournament began. At Italia '90, Costa Rica -- in their first World Cup -- defeated both Scotland and Sweden to qualify for the knockout rounds. Thanks to the superb performances of goalkeeper Luis Gabelo Conejo, the Ticos finished second in their group behind Brazil.
However, an ailing Conejo would miss the next match against Czechoslovakia and La Sele went out with a 4-1 loss.
During returns to the World Cup in 2002 and 2006, Costa Rica didn't make it out of the group stage. In 2014, the Ticos carried their most talented squad to the tournament since the 1990 version and overcame three former World Cup champions in Group D. La Sele qualified for the knockout round of the World Cup after beating Italy on June 20 -- exactly 24 years to the day they upset Sweden to seal a berth in the second round. Some would argue the Ticos already have surpassed the success of their original World Cup squad after winning a group filled with superior opponents. The current players, though, don't want to leave the question up for debate.
Defender Cristian Gamboa has spoken about keeping focus -- you can tell these players are desperate to become the first La Sele squad to make the quarterfinals.
"Fortunately all of us want to stay here until the last day of the World Cup," added defender Michael Umaña.
That last statement sounds like a truism. But Umaña's assurance wouldn't have applied to the 1990 team. Former midfielder Héctor Marchena said the 1990 lineup lacked ambition, with half the team wanting to return to Costa Rica after the group stage. The squad, made up entirely of players from the national league, had been away from home for too long and wanted to head back.
So perhaps there's a general sentiment that this year's Costa Rica squad deserves to be the best in the country's history.
How do the players from the initial World Cup squad feel about the new generation of Ticos shattering their records? As 1990 team captain Roger Flores told local media: "It's about time."
Conejo, the breakout keeper at the 1990 tournament, currently serves as La Sele's coach. Before the 2014 World Cup, he said he was tired of talking about the past and that this team hopefully would exceed what he had helped attain 24 years ago. Juan Cayasso, who scored Costa Rica's first World Cup goal following a beautiful pass from Claudio Jara, has been in Brazil cheering for the team. Other players like Jara, Flores and Marchena have been guests at parties in Costa Rica's capital city of San José.
Even the team's old coach Bora Milutinovic has been heard on Costa Rica's airwaves. The peripatetic Serbian -- the first manager to lead four different teams to the World Cup -- wished La Sele good luck against Greece in an interview Friday with a local radio station.
The ex-midfielder Marchena, in his newspaper interview, even went ahead and made a prediction.
"I am sure that they are going to keep making history," Marchena said. "I am sure that we will beat Greece."