By Toby Davis
RECIFE Brazil (Reuters) - Organization, preparation and desire - it may be a simple mantra, but it has taken Costa Rica from unfancied underdogs to World Cup dark horses who are within one more upset of the semi-finals.
A penalty shootout victory against Greece having played almost an hour with 10 men to draw 1-1 ensured the relative minnows from Central America reached the quarter finals for the first time where the Netherlands now lie in wait.
While they will again be tipped to fail, just as they were when drawn in a group that included Italy, Uruguay and England, they have shown that a solid team ethic, built on the foundation of meticulous preparation and rigid organization can help them upset the established pecking order.
Their victory over an unadventurous Greece in Recife was impressive in that it came despite a second-half red card that left weary legs to survive another 54 minutes throughout extra time.
They were helped on their way by some heroic goalkeeping from Keylor Navas, but also thanks to the tactical wiles of coach Jorge Luis Pinto, who leaves nothing to chance, even the minutiae of the shootout.
"We had analyzed everything, who was going to shoot the penalties. We knew before the match who was going to go first, second, third...
"We have a very well established structure, everybody knows what they have to do and that is useful for us. Having that feeling and pride in wanting to keep moving on...
"If you are prepared, you play better and learn faster, handle tactics and strategies better. You have better behavior on the pitch and you assimilate the tactical side of things better with all that learning."
The foundation for Costa Rica's success has been the system they play, with a rock-solid back five who have only conceded once in open play in their four matches to date.
A midfield marshaled by the impressive Celso Borges provides an intimidating shield in front of them, but is also able to quickly spring their attacking trio of Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos.
Their group included three former World Cup winners, yet nobody has really come close to finding the key to unlock the canny Costa Ricans.
The Ticos have already made their mark in the history books after their only previous appearance in the last 16 came 24 years ago, but they are not done yet.
"This was a huge result for the history of the country, for the players, entire technical staff...and the people in Costa Rica rooting for us. We felt all of that and it is a gratitude we will take away from this," Pinto said.
"We will continue fighting and will go on. We see beautiful things, but we are ambitious, want to grow, develop, move forward and God willing we will get that satisfaction.
"We will meet an extraordinary team, winners in the world with great players, but we are happy."
A quick flick on to Pinto's personal website, which is packed with tactical dissections and explanations, tells you the Colombian coach will certainly do his homework on the Dutch, who scraped into the quarter-finals with two late goals to beat Mexico.
"We recorded the match," Pinto said. "We are going to analyze the Netherlands... We will face them with respect but also a desire to win."
(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Patrick Johnston)
- Sports & Recreation
- Costa Rica
- Jorge Luis Pinto