Forget Spain, it was Costa Rica 'tico-taka' that lit us up
06 July 2014, 18:16
Belo Horizonte, Brazil - Costa Rica exit the World Cup proudly unbeaten in open play with a first ever quarter-final appearance, the scalps of two former champions and some tidy football that mocked their underdog status.
"Costa Rica's heart broken, but soul intact," read one of the Sunday headlines at home as the Central American nation of less than 5 million people hailed its over-achieving heroes who began the tournament as 4,000-1 outsiders.
Many eyes had been on all-conquering Spain and their slick-passing brand of 'tiki-taka' football before the tournament, but within days it was the 'Ticos' who caught attention with stunning and deserved victories over Uruguay and Italy.
'Tico-taka', as some dubbed their style of stalwart defending and nippy counter-attacks, carried them comfortably through a 0-0 draw with another former World Cup winner, England, to top a group they were expected to struggle in.
Losing some attacking verve, Costa Rica edged Greece on penalties in the last 16 before their nerve broke in a quarter-final penalty shootout with the Netherlands following brave defiance of Arjen Robben and company in a 0-0 draw over 120 minutes.
Costa Rica conceded just two goals throughout the tournament and they did that without their best defender, left back Bryan Oviedo, who failed to recover from a broken leg.
"Unbeaten!" Tweeted their President Luis Guillermo Solis of the team nicknamed 'La Sele' as well as 'Los Ticos' at home.
"A whole nation proud of 'La Sele', and the whole world recognises this achievement."
Costa Rica's consistently good performances had no luck about them - until the final match perhaps when the Netherlands hit their woodwork several times - and were all the more remarkable given their relative lack of big names.
"BRILLIANT, SPECTACULAR" NAVAS
Of the few who do have wider recognition in the footballing world, captain and attacking midfielder Bryan Ruiz, on loan to PSV Eindhoven from English Premier League side Fulham, and nippy striker Joel Campbell, on loan to Olympiakos from Arsenal, have seen their profile rise.
The undoubted star, though, was Keylor Navas, the 27-year-old goalkeeper who plays for Levante in Spain's La Liga.
His growing reputation was enhanced considerably in Brazil, and it is no wonder he is being linked with Real Madrid.
"It's an empty feeling," Navas said in the dazed aftermath of Saturday's shootout, declining to speculate on his club future until he had absorbed the moment with the national time.
"But this team can leave with their heads high. We didn't lose a single game. It's hard but that is life."
Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto has written himself into Costa Rican lore with his over-achievements in Brazil, and 'Tico' fans are praying he will stay on.
"We are not a big power but we demonstrated things," he said, singling out his "brilliant, spectacular" goalkeeper.
Even though they were defeated, Costa Ricans danced, waved flags, beat drums and honked horns on Saturday night in the capital San Jose.
"Honestly, this loss is a win for us because we got so far," said Alexander Acevedo, 25, wearing a Costa Rican flag around his shoulders.