Costa Rica, USA Blaze Psychological Trails

Historically advancing deeper in the World Cup at the expense of traditional world powers should embolden CONCACAF sides
by Nick Chavez   |   Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Bycolored – column on Ottawa Fury & the Ottawa area soccer scene.

The team that was never given a chance continues to defy all conventional wisdom. Even after getting a player sent off in the 66th minute, and having to play a man down for an additional 30 minutes of extra time, Costa Rica still endured against the 2004 European Champions Greece.

The Costa Rican National Team, which seemingly no one had given the chance of advancing out of the “Group of Champions,” have done just that, and in some style.

Of course, Los Ticos also made more tangible history, as they became the first Costa Rican side to ever reach the final 8 of a FIFA World Cup, making “La Sele” only 2 wins away from a place in the final.

There is no overstating what this means to the Costa Rican people emotionally, and more applicably, what this unrivaled Tico success means psychologically to Costa Rican football.

Whatever happens now, Costa Rica is already extremely proud and satisfied with their National Team’s performance in the World Cup, but with every win, Los Ticos grow more bullish.

After Costa Rica beating 2-Time World Champions Uruguay, 4-Time World Champions (and 2012 Euro Cup finalist) Italy and drawing former World Champion England and topping the group to achieve what was widely deemed impossible, Los Ticos are right to believe that they can beat any team in the world, including their next opponents, the 2010 runners-up the Netherlands.

Costa Rican confidence should also be boosted by the performances of fellow CONCACAF team Mexico, which nearly saw off the Netherlands yesterday, as well as by Australia who gave the Netherlands reasons for worry in the Group Stage. Costa Rica knows, based on recent results and there performances in the Hexagonal, that they are a superior team to both of these sides that gave the Dutch such a stern test.

Furthermore, Costa Rica has arguably the best defense in the World Cup, only conceding 2 goals the entire tournament.

Whatever may be the result against the Netherlands, what Costa Rica has given its people, and indirectly to other CONCACAF nations, is stone-cold evidence that our region’s football is considerably better than what most of the world thinks it is and can become.

Forever, Costa Ricans will know that they can not only advance from a World Cup group of former World Champions, but that they can win said group with style and comfort.

Forever, Costa Ricans will remember that they also beat another former Euro Champion in the first knock out round of a World Cup, even while playing half the match down a man, even through till the exhausting conclusion of extra time. Ticos will always know that if it was possible once, they can do it again.

After such odds-defying, spirited performances with massive results vs. world powers, why should Costa Rica fear any team again? Why should they feel that their players and their level of football are decidedly inferior to any other nation’s? Why would they ever doubt themselves again?

Belief is a powerful thing. A change of perception (national and of confederation) is a gift Costa Rica, and the United States who have also survived a “Group of Death” of their own, have given to their people and to CONCACAF as whole.

Many CONCACAF teams will watch these performances and realize that since they can (and have) have beaten Costa Rica, USA and Mexico, they can aspire to this level. They can realistically hope to have similar success in a future World Cup.

USA fans must be bolstered by Costa Rica’s run, knowing they have beaten Costa Rica several times (and vice-versa), and therefore have just as strong of a chance to beat former World and Euro Champions.

And if you can do that, a path to the World Cup final becomes much more readily visible. The mirage of this once fantastical dream begins to sharpen into focus, materializing into something much more tangible and within reach.

It also makes you begin to wonder. Is CONCACAF really as weak as the world assumes? Were Mexico so weak in the hexagonal, or were their disappointing results also an indication of the growing strength of Costa Rica, USA, and CONCACAF as a whole that has so dramatically been put on display in Brazil?

Was it because Mexico declined in quality in the Hex or was it because the two other major powerhouses of CONCACAF soccer have just achieved a new level of excellence, perhaps, never before seen by Costa Rican or US soccer?

Mexico’s own Chicharito said after their impressive victory over Croatia, ”The thing is, [everyone] thinks CONCACAF is easy…. We’re growing up.”

Even before World Cup, Costa Rica’s bold young forward Joel Campbell told the press,”The problem with Ticos is that we think small, and when someone thinks big, it scares them.”

Perhaps this regional inferiority complex has been a big part of the problem with CONCACAF soccer in general, particularly with the US Soccer, something that it appears coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been trying to change as well. And to seemingly great effect, thus far.

No one can doubt that USA seems to have found an extra gear both physically and psychologically. USA appears far more ready for the pressure and for the battle this time around, with less naiveté. And their ability to professionally grind out desired results against powerful opponents underscores this.

One thing is for sure: belief is an absolutely essential ingredient in the recipe for success, especially on the world stage. Costa Rica and the USA have certainly believed, now have even better reason to continue doing so, and both have exceeded the expectations of the vast majority of the people walking our planet.

What this amounts to is something extremely valuable for these nations, and all of CONCACAF. When you know you have done something before, you know you can do it again. Even when quite nearly the entire world says it’s impossible the fact remains: it is very possible.

How far can we go, and what might we achieve next? And how might CONCACAF sides fare in the ever-mouth-watering Copa America of 2016 which will take place in the United States?

It’s been rightly said that “fortune favors the bold.” This tried and true maxim has certainly stood up to scrutiny well in Brazil yet again. 

Nick CHAVEZ

Nationality:
USA
College:
SCSU
Club Domestic:
NYCFC
Club Foreign:
Real Madrid CF
Spent most of 2012 in Madrid, Spain and his father's native Costa Rica in what was a pilgrimage of fútbol and a mission to learn Spanish. Now, this proud American Outlaw is home in the CT/NYC area to report on New York City FC and promote MLS/US Soccer.
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