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Little country inspires by defeating top teams

Costa Rica defeats Italy 1-0 in World Cup 2014 in Brazil
Costa Rica defeats Italy 1-0 in World Cup 2014 in Brazil
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

In football’s firmament, Costa Rica is considered a faint star, barely visible next to the supposedly glowing stars of Italy, Uruguay and England.

Someone clearly forgot to mention that to the plucky, never-give-up Costa Ricans in the 2014 World Cup, currently in progress in Brazil.

Whatever may happen in the next phase of the tournament for the team from the tiny nation, the Ticos (formally, Costarricenses) have shown that they can outrun, outfight and out-strategize the best teams in the world, and do it with verve and style.

A nation of about 5 million with a landmass of about 20,000 sq. mi, Costa Rica nurtures a well-deserved reputation for its progressive environmental policies, the only country in the world to meet all five criteria for measuring environmental sustainability. It constitutionally abolished its army permanently in 1949 and has consistently been among top-ranking countries in the Human Development Index.

Is it any wonder that out of a nation of enlightened government come a team of energetic Davids ready to vanquish football’s Goliaths?

Not so fast, you say. There is no proof of any correlation between good governance and football prowess. Besides, this is only the first stage of group games. Next is the knockout phase where anything can result from a maddening combination of luck, pluck, bad and good calls and that x-factor, the intestinal fire to win.

But that’s beside the point. The Ticos have already shown that they can take on the best by believing in themselves, working hard and seizing opportunities whenever they present themselves. They have no superstars, no Messis and Neymars, yet as a cohesive team they are as solid in the back and fluid in the front as any team in the world.

They were in the so-called ‘Group of Death’ and now they are the ones most alive in that group.

We are too focused on name brands and so lose sight of genuine wonders. Costa Rica has so far been the wonder of World Cup 2014. When they beat Uruguay (champions in 1930, 1950) 3-1 in Arena Castelao in Fortaleza and Italy (champions in 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006) 1-0 in Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, they taught the world one thing: the unheralded can beat the celebrated through fearless, attacking football.

On June 24, the Ticos take on England, a mere formality, since England is already out, having lost both to Italy and Uruguay. If any team deserves pity and scorn in equal measures, it is England’s Three Lions, the most overrated team in history. While Costa Rica should play to win on June 24, it should conserve its energy for the next phase and happily settle for a draw.

Costa Rica’s performance lends itself to academic lessons. If Brazil, Argentina, Holland and Germany represent Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and, say, Caltech, Costa Rica represents a community college. Yet community college students need not feel inferior to students from these elite universities. Through grit, focus and faith in themselves, they can compete with the ivy-league educated students in any field.

On July 23, when two teams compete for football supremacy in the World Cup 2014 final, Costa Rica is unlikely to be one of those two.

But that will not in any way diminish what the tiny nation has already accomplished: They can compete with the best and win.

Henry Campbell, a student at San Jose City College, is from Costa Rica. He attributes the success of ‘La Sele’ (name of the Costa Rican national football team) to experience, passion, training, hard work and determination. “The support comes from the whole country,” says Campbell. “We may not agree on a lot of things such as politics, but when it comes to La Sele, it is hard to find a Costa Rican who will not support the team. We don’t have much to represent us at an international level, so we rally behind our soccer team. Experience comes from the fact that many of the team’s players play in international leagues. As for passion, no matter how small a town is in Costa Rica, you can always find a soccer field. We just love the game. The players train exceptionally hard because they know they will have to play against top teams of the world. Players like Joel Campbell definitely help keep up the winning momentum with some pretty sweet goals. I mention this not because we are related!”

Campbell, whose goal is to become a police officer, is inspired by the performance of La Sele. “Even if people don’t think you can do something, it is up to you to take on the challenge. You have got to believe in yourself. Even if you don’t succeed at first, you can’t give up. Keep practicing, like La Sele, and you are bound to do better next time. Even attempting to do something is better than not trying at all.”

So, if you are a community college student and you are competing for a job with a Stanford or a Harvard graduate, don’t give up. Prepare for it, give it your best shot and the job can be yours.