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Dublin: 12 °C Monday 16 September, 2019
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Costa Rican players had practised penalties 'a lot'

The Central American side scored all five of their spot kicks as they beat Greece in the last 16 yesterday.

Costa Rica celebrate winning the penalty shootout.
Costa Rica celebrate winning the penalty shootout.
Image: Nick Potts

MIKEY STAFFORD reports from Recife

CELSO BORGES WAS only two when his father and former international Alexandre Guimarães helped Costa Rica qualify for the last 16 at Italia ’90 but now, having gone one step further in Brazil, the midfielder is hoping to inspire the next generation.

The-26-year-old, who plies his trade in Sweden with AIK, set the tone in the penalty shootout victory over Greece last night, nervelessly blasting the first of Costa Rica’s five flawless spot kicks high into the net.

Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto revealed afterwards that his team had prepared fully for a shootout and the takers were decided well in advance. Borges told The Score.ie he was happy to take the first and trusted his goalkeeper Keylor Navas would keep his end of the bargain.

“I wanted it like that, we had been practising a lot. It is a lot of practice, a lot of confidence and it helps that the keeper is superb,” said Borges, who knows what a first-ever quarter-final means to a country of less than five million people.

“This is what we wanted, some kids haven’t seen our national team in round of 16 or in the quarter-finals, this is what we wanted. We couldn’t have it better.”

Costa Rica looked exhausted after playing over 20 minutes of normal time and the entirety of extra time with 10 men after the sending off of Oscar Duarte for a second yellow card. The Central Americans must now pick themselves off the floor and prepare for a quarter-final against the Netherlands — who themselves have to recover after their 2-1 win over Mexico, which was played in extreme heat in Fortaleza.

“It’s a new challenge and if we work like we did tonight we can do a lot of things,” said Borges of Saturday’s meeting with the Dutch in Salvador.

Having topped a group containing three World Champions — Italy, Uruguay and England — Pinto’s team are now one win away from a place in the World Cup semi-finals. His assistant is Paulo Wanchope.

The former Derby County, West Ham United and Manchester City striker believes the scale of Costa Rica’s achievement is not a burden on the unheralded group of players, quite the opposite in fact.

“We have a big opportunity to make history. We won that difficult group and we knew we had a big chance to make history,” said Wanchope.

“Now we have a great chance. Anything can happen. Everyone will expect Holland to win, it would be normal but Costa Rica have shown a lot in the World Cup,” added the country’s second-highest ever goalscorer.

“There is no pressure for us, it is pressure for Holland,” he said. “That is a positive thing because everyone will expect Holland to win, so there is no pressure. For sure I know the players want to be ready for that game.”

Costa Rica’s achievements 24 years ago were overshadowed somewhat by the exploits of Cameroon and the Republic of Ireland, who both reached the quarter-finals, but there is no disputing Pinto’s team are the story of this World Cup, or any World Cup, according to Wanchope.

“I think this is the best story,” said the former striker, who would have been 13 when Costa Rica were competing at Italia ’90.

“We have a member of staff, Gabelo Conejo, who is the goalkeeping coach, he was one who played that World Cup. We always talk about that.

“We are very proud of those players. Imagine now, everyone… we are feeling great. It is another story for Costa Rica.”

Fulham striker Bryan Ruiz, who spent the second half of last season on loan at PSV, put Costa Rica ahead after a dour first half only for Sokratis Papastathopoulos to score a last-minute equaliser for Greece, who would surely have won the game in extra-time were it not for the heroics of Navas. The Levante goalkeeper is just one Costa Rican who is doing his career prospects no harm in Brazil.

“Navas is best keeper in Spain,” said Wanchope. “I always ask myself when we see lots of Argentinians and Brazilians playing in Spain or England, sometimes I just think myself that they are there because they are Argentinian or Brazilian.

“We have good players in Costa Rica too and it is good they are showing themselves that they can go very high.”

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Mikey Stafford

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