• Underdogs head for home after Holland shootout defeat
• ‘Every tournament has a revelation … I’m happy it was us’
Back in the dressing room in the bowels of the Arena Fonte Nova there were no tears from Costa Rica’s players after their penalty shootout defeat.
Rather there was dazed pride at how far they had come and a tinge of regret that a dogged, backs-to-the-wall performance against Holland had not been enough to extend the remarkable tale of Los Ticos into the semi-finals.
Their fans, who have been warmly welcomed by a Brazilian public who have adopted Costa Rica as their second team, had worn T-shirts mocking the Uruguay, Italy and England sides in the “group of death” that they had long outlasted.
Already, having reached the quarter-finals for the first time in their nation’s history and held Holland at bay for two hours, their players were starting to reflect on how far they had come and where they might be heading.
“For the region it’s huge and for Costa Rica it has an impact economically, socially and sports-wise,” said the midfielder Celso Borges. “We can grow on many levels. This will be one of the key moments in Costa Rica’s football history.”
Their success, along with that of Mexico and the USA in reaching the round of 16, will also boost the campaign for Concacaf to be awarded a fourth automatic qualifying slot for the next World Cup.
“That is for other people to decide. But what Concacaf has shown during the tournament, let that be our way of judging,” said Borges, who plays for AIK Stockholm but said his future was still to be decided.
“We had three teams in the last 16, we all played well and we all played our hearts out.”
On a personal level Borges, who stepped up to score the first Costa Rica penalty in the shootout against Holland, has now eclipsed the achievements of his father.
Alexandre Guimarães was a naturalised Brazilian who played for Costa Rica in the 1990 World Cup, where they beat Scotland in the group stages and reached the second round.
The latest and most successful generation will return to a heroes’ welcome having finished the tournament unbeaten in open play and having conceded only two goals.
Their coach, Jorge Luis Pinto, is a keen student of World Cup history and sat down to study endless footage of previous tournaments to perfect a counter-attacking game plan to nullify the individual talents of their opponents.
“Every World Cup has a revelation during the tournament. I’m really happy it was us. The cards we were given before the World Cup, everybody thought we had no chance,” said Borges.
“To come through all that shows a lot of mental stability and that we also have good players. Among everything we deserve to be called good players. That’s why we should be happy.”
With every day that passes in Brazil, the notion that England were among the best prepared sides is further undermined.
As soon as they qualified, all the Costa Rica players underwent extensive tests and were put on personal training programmes. “We were all working for six months. There’s no magic to it. We just put a lot of heart into it,” said Borges.
Twin that work-rate with a system that has become second nature, one of the players of the tournament in goalkeeper Keylor Navas and the intelligence to interpret their coach’s instructions on the field and Costa Rica’s success should not have come as such a shock.
“That’s almost three years of training with the same principles, the same training methods. It shows the group is steady, the team is very confident in what it is doing, that it trusts the system to play through. And that’s what happened,” said Borges.
Pinto, whose own future is uncertain, said his team was “hurt but happy” and paid tribute to the Brazilians who have supported his side on their run to the quarter-finals.
“We have done beautiful things. People didn’t believe in us but we’ve achieved wonderful things. We go home unbeaten and that’s very important for us,” he said.