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Every dedicated Costa Rica fan remembers the goal that sent Los Ticos through to the last 16 at the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™. It came against Sweden in their final group match and involved Alexandre Guimaraes heading into the path of Hernan Medford, who bore down on goal and planted a right-footed cross-shot into the back of the net.
El Pelicano’s strike gave the Central Americans a 2-1 win, the most important in the country’s history and one that clinched them a place in the knockout phase for the first and only time to date. It was a triumph Los Ticos have been dreaming of repeating ever since, and one that edged closer to becoming a reality on Saturday as the Central Americans came from behind to down Uruguay 3-1 in Fortaleza.
Basking in the afterglow of a famous win, Costa Rica’s heroes spoke to FIFA.com.
Thanks for the memories
The first to present himself before the microphone was Oscar Duarte, the tall central-defender who stooped low to put his side 2-1 ahead with a classic diving header.
Recognising the influence of the 1990 generation on the current Tico crop, the No6 said: “I was only one at the time but everyone knows the story inside out. I’ve also had coaches who played at that World Cup and told me about it. It’s a real motivation for us.”
The defeat of the Swedes 24 years ago has acquired an almost mystical significance for the people of Costa Rica, as Duarte explained. “They even made a film out of it back home. We picked up things from it that we could use on the pitch, and it helped us in a mental sense more than anything else. We just thought that if our predecessors could do it, then there’s no reason why we couldn’t do it.”
The scorer of La Sele’s equaliser against the Uruguayans and the Budweiser Man of the Match, Joel Campbell, also spoke of the inspirational example set by the class of 1990: “Before we came here we decided we would write our own story and go even further. Today was the starting point.”
Turning a page
Mixed in with the delight of getting off to a winning start was a feeling of relief. Defeating Uruguay has allowed the latest Tico generation to move out of the shadow of their illustrious forerunners.
“To be honest, it’s been a heavy burden for several generations of national-team players, every one of which is compared to that one,” acknowledged Cristian Bolanos, one of Costa Rica’s standout performers on Saturday. “Every side gets compared to that team and it isn’t easy. We’ve had to fight against our rivals and our own happy memories.”
Clearly delighted at generating the same happiness as the squad that overachieved at Italy 1990, Bolanos said: “I was just a little boy at the time, only six years old, but I have very vivid memories of the celebrations and people going crazy in the streets. It makes me very, very happy to think that we are now causing that same kind of excitement.”
Having chased the ghosts away, the sky is now the limit for Jorge Luis Pinto’s side, as Marcos Urena, the scorer of Los Ticos’ third goal in Fortaleza, pointed out: “We are very happy but we are not going to lose sight of our objective.
“The history books say that Costa Rica’s best achievement is reaching the last 16 and we want to get there too. This is a really tough group and our remaining opponents are both top sides, though that’s only going to help us maintain our focus.”
Urena’s goal will also live long in the memory of the fans. Like Medford 24 years before him, the front man latched on to a through ball, advanced on goal and placed a precise cross-shot into the back of the net.
His strike will no doubt inspire thousands of Costa Rican youngsters, just as Medford’s epoch-defining goal captured Urena's imagination. The only difference is that this story has yet to reach its conclusion.