Costa Rica kicked off their campaign in Group D as rank outsiders. Los Ticos were 4000-1 to win the tournament after landing in a group that included Italy, Uruguay and England. Not only did they qualify from such a hazardous section, they managed to top it. After their 10 men managed to oust Greece on penalties following a 1-1 draw, there is room to believe.
The bookmakers also believe. They are now only 33-1 to lift the trophy before Saturday's quarter-final with Netherlands. We also have reason to believe. Here is why Costa Rica can become world champions in Rio de Janeiro next Sunday.
1. They already have pedigree in this tournament
Any side who can overcome Uruguay and Italy, and draw with England (fair enough, drawing with England wasn't that impressive) must be decent. All three were ranked inside the world's top 10 prior to this tournament with Costa Rica perched one placed below Scotland in 28th place, but all three could not really cope with the Central American outsiders in Group D who were easily the most potent force. Costa Rica are one of eight group winners in the last eight. Says it all really.
2. They have nothing to lose, and everything to gain
Despite the fact they have taken two scalps and proven they can hold their nerve after 120 minutes of a last-16 encounter by overcoming tournament spoilsports Greece on penalties, the remaining seven countries in the tournament won't be envisaging victory for Costa Rica. Especially the Dutch. If there is any country who is likely to underestimate an opponent, it is surely Netherlands, who are not exactly known for their modesty when it comes to valuing their own worth in football circles. Would it be such a huge shock if the Dutch came a cropper here?
3. They are riding the crest of a wave..and have a unique coolness about them
Costa Rica has a population of less than five million, but all of the country is behind them. As shown in shirt sales. It is a rare triumph for a smaller kitmaker Lotto, the likes of which have been increasingly squeezed out of the World Cup with major brands like Nike, Adidas and Puma paying millions to hog the stage at the world's most watched sporting event. Lotto is struggling to keep up with demand and says an extra 50,000 shirts have been sold since Costa Rica won their opening game against Uruguay. At FIFA's online store the red home strip is no longer available in usual short sleeves.
"We are now having trouble organising some fast production to let everyone have this shirt that will become a memory of a historic achievement," Lotto President Andrea Tomat told Reuters in an interview. Out of 32 teams at this World Cup, Costa Rica are one of just five not to have their shirts made by Nike, Adidas or Puma. They is also the only team to make the last eight so far not sponsored by Adidas or Nike.
4. They have the miracle man Bryan Ruiz, a figure transformed in his country's colours
Costa Rica captain Ruiz scored only one goal in 14 games for Fulham prior to Christmas last season. But has two goals in four games during this tournament. In total, he has made 51 appearances in the Premier League with only eight goals. He is captain of his country, but spent the latter half of the season on loan at PSV Eindhoven. He was a figure signed by Martin Jol three years ago, but not trusted to help the London side in a relegation fight after the Dutch coach was sacked earlier in the season. Fulham ended up losing their bid to stay up. It is doubtful if Ruiz will rejoin them in the Championship. For a man signed for £10.6 million in 2011, he has been desperately disappointing at Craven Cottage, but is a different animal with his country.
5. They have Joel Campbell
This is a youngster who hasn't played for Arsenal during three years at the club, but has been busy powering his way through this tournament The teenage forward is responding to the voracious support of the country's estimated 4,000 travelling support. “We love them and they love us,” said Campbell. “The love we’re getting from the fans is so powerful. We take that passion and that happiness out onto the pitch with us. It gives us an extra gear."
6. The sultry conditions suit them
The hotter the better really for Costa Rica. And it will be hot in Salvador when they meet Louis van Gaal's side. Unlike the match with Greece, they can adapt to their natural counter-attacking style against the Dutch, who will come onto them because their style of play demands it. The Dutch are also missing Nigel de Jong due to a torn groin muscle which will suit the minnows.
7. They have the required mettle
Costa Rica were looking down the barrel against Greece when Oscar Duarte was sent off. Despite being a man down and shipping a goal in the death throes of the 90 minutes, Jorge Luis Pinto's side clung on through extra-time before emerging victories on penalties. And they didn't miss a spot-kick in sudden death. Which suggests they are not panicking about the prospects of glory in Brazil.
8. The bookmakers say the concept isn't ridiculous
Fair enough, they are the least fancied team of the eight remaining, but if you want to look for any inspiration about whether Costa Rica could be on the verge of something quite unfathomable, you only need to go back a decade to see what Greece achieved at Euro 2004. Despite being unfancied, Greece produced three 1-0 wins against France, Czech Republic and Portugal. The same formula would work for Costa Rica.
9. The other teams aren't that impressive
With world champions Spain departing tamely in the group stage, there is not one team you would bet your mortgage on to come through for you. Not with any degree of certainty. Brazil are favourites, but only because they are the host nation. The winner of this match could Argentina or Belgium in the last four. And neither of those sides looked impregnable after taut and narrow wins over Switzerland and the USA, respectively. If both of these sides can push two of the starrier names to extra-time, Costa Rica must feel good within themselves.
As our blogger Jim White put it in his latest contribution: "And now as the final stages hove into view, we have the prospect of four Latin American teams – Colombia, Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica facing up to four Europeans in Holland, Germany, France and Belgium. If we had any doubt before we can now be certain: this is shaping up to be the best World Cup of all time."
10. They have been in the knockout stages before
Well, they were here before, but have now gone one step further. This was a national side who overcame Scotland and Sweden in reaching the last 16 of the 1990 World Cup while losing narrowly to Brazil. They eventually lost to Czechoslovakia, but not before they have upset the odds. This will be a new piece of history for the small nation. Who says it needs to stop here?
11. They have a Colombian manager who can carry off a casual moustache
There is a feeling of goodwill towards Costa Rica that no other team possess. They have been a breath of fresh air with their approach. They also possess a coach who can look good with a moustache, and without a caterpillar below his nose. Graeme Souness looked a bit weak when he ditched his facial fungus, but Pinto carries both looks off well. This is his second time running Costa Rica, and he has obviously learned from previous errors.
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