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May 25, 2014

Costa Rica looking for natural edge

One could sense something different in the air last Thursday at Costa Rica's national team training -- suffocating humidity.

A few minutes out in the morning sun was all it took to break out into a sweat. Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto loved it. "Great heat! Lovely heat," he raved.

This, after all, is one of the clear advantages Pinto believes Costa Rica has against its European opponents. The Ticos will battle both England and Italy beneath Brazil's scorching midday sun.

"We're all tropical people, Caribbean people and we'll feel normal in Recife, in Fortaleza and, God-willing, double for Belo Horizonte." Pinto said, referring to the three hot-hot-hot spots in Brazil where Costa Rica will play next month.

Costa Rica opens the tournament with a late afternoon match against Uruguay in Fortaleza. Then it's Italy in Recife and England in Belo Horizonte, where the heat will be milder but similarly humid. The latter two matches are set for 1 p.m. kick-offs. Costa Rica anticipates temperatures could run between 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) and 32 degrees C (90 degrees F) in the middle of the day.

The temperature hovered around 29 degrees by noon Friday in San Antonio de Belen, where the Ticos are hosting their training camp. The boiling temperatures might fall a bit this week -- and afternoon thunderstorms will be a frequent annoyance for the team -- but the brutal humidity is here to stay.

Pinto seems correct that no team should be better prepared for Brazil's balmy weather. In Uruguay, it's winter (relatively speaking) though the Uruguayans don't seem worried about the mugginess. Their European counterparts, however, have expressed their dread about the heat. Before the groups were drawn, the English and Italian coaches both were dismayed about the prospect of playing in the country's most oppressive stadiums. (They especially disliked Manaus -- the steamiest city of them all, located in the midst of the Amazon rainforest. As luck would have it, England and Italy play their first match of the tournament against each other in Manaus.)

Of course, England and Italy are taking measures to help themselves adapt quickly in the tropics. England, specifically, chose to hold training sessions in muggy southern Portugal and a friendly in Miami. Although it was unseasonably chilly in Portugal last week.

Back home, the Tico players have appreciated their own sweaty luck with the climate.

"The heat is allowing us to be ready, especially those of us coming from cold places," said Diego Calvo, one of three La Sele members who just arrived after a season in Norway.

The team's medical staff has taken precautions with recent practices to ensure proper player hydration. It's another form of training for Brazil, and making sure the team is in peak physical condition.

Pinto remains hyper-focused on tactics and constructing a strong defense, but conditioning will go hand-in-hand with the more technical game-planning. The coach thinks Italy and England could be beat down by the heat in the second half. If they burn out late in a tight game, the Ticos believe they'll be prepared to strike.

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