RIO DE JANEIRO -- In the so-called "group of death," Costa Rica found life ... pura vida or "plenty of life."
After Netherlands destroyed the reigning champions 5-1, we assumed we had seen enough already in the start of the World Cup, but one more surprise was still in store for us: Costa Rica chalked up a commanding 3-1 win over Uruguay on Saturday, and collected their first three points in a group that includes three former world champions.
There was nothing secret or hidden behind the Costa Rican feat: teamwork, sacrifice, solidarity and spirit, all the ingredients needed to survive and compete on the world stage.
A couple of months ago in Los Angeles, during the broadcast of the program "Nación ESPN," I had the chance to chat with manager Jorge Luis Pinto, who answered the questions truthfully and in a straightforward manner. But I saved two questions for a more suitable occasion. And Saturday night, after what happened in Fortaleza, is the perfect occasion.
The first one was about why Mexico had such a difficult qualifying campaign. Pinto's answer was: "There's arrogance in Mexican soccer. They all claim to be the best, but they have to prove themselves on the field." And the second question was about the challenges Costa Rica would have to face in the World Cup in a group that included Uruguay, England and Italy. "It's not martyrdom," said Pinto. "It will give us a wonderful opportunity to measure our potential."
Costa Rica did not only claim a well-deserved and emphatic victory against Uruguay, but also played well on the field. They played intelligently, looked to hit on the break whenever the opportunity arose and controlled the game at times. There were many positive elements, but the main one was the construction of a strong team.
No impossible missions in soccer
There are no "impossible missions" in soccer, even if it means winning against Brazil, in a World Cup held in Brazil so that Brazil wins. And here we go again. ... The game turns into a world of speculations, and speculations are both good and bad, depending on how we interpret them, we measure them, we feel them.
For Mexico to win against Brazil on Tuesday in Fortaleza, many things have to happen -- most of them, hopefully, on the field, but footballing performance will be the most important thing of all.
Attitude, skills, pace and discipline will no longer suffice to win against the Brazilian team in a World Cup hosted by Brazil. A good mix of all of the above is required in order to have the opportunity to win and, even so, it may not be enough due to factors beyond the control of Miguel Herrera and his men.
I believe that Mexico needs to take advantage of this splendid opportunity before them. They should enjoy and make the most of the experience in El Castelao and understand that under the spotlights that Brazil attracts in this World Cup, what they do or don't do could be the hallmark of the Brazil 2014 movie.
Pretty much everybody expects Mexico to lose -- it would be the logical scenario -- but some of us expect them to compete. Only if they are able to "compete," trouble, concern, overstrain the overwhelming favourites, will they move closer to the objective. The only thing Mexico is not allowed to do is to attempt nothing at all, to "die" without having tried, or to seek the least possible damage on the field.
I am sure Mexican fans will forgive anything this team does, except for not taking advantage of this opportunity to showcase what Mexican soccer has gained in personality, order, discipline, skills and intelligence to play this sport that our country is so passionate about.
Some of the most memorable moments in the history of Mexican soccer in modern times are marked by defeat. Defeats in which, however, the Mexican team showed strong arguments to compete, to fight as best as possible and to try, regardless of their inadequacies or limitations, to move closer to success. Against Bulgaria in 1994, Germany in 1998, and Argentina in 2006, the Mexican team did not hide behind the "fear" of playing against a team of strong historical and statistical conditions.
Mexico can and should turn "pressure" into its ally, as the home team is forced to improve and win.
Winning against Brazil might seem like an "impossible mission." But it's not, as long as the players don't hold such a view.