A Colombia victory to cement their achievements?

With all the furore over Luis Suarez and the attention that inevitably circulates around Lionel Messi and Neymar, it is all to easy to overlook the achievements of the South and Central American sides in this tournament. Of the ten nations from the two American federations that qualified for these finals, eight have made it through to the last sixteen. Only Honduras and Ecuador have fallen at the first hurdle. Whilst we would all have expected Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to qualify, the feats of Mexico, Costa Rica, USA, Colombia and Chile have provided us with some of the highlights of this already spectacular world cup.

When the draw was made it appeared that lady luck had deserted the USA. Drawn in a group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, they were seen as the whipping boys in the one genuine group of death. However, they took advantage of being drawn to play Ghana (on paper their easiest game) in their first match and stunned the African side with an aggressive brand of football that yielded an early three points that proved so vital in a tight group. Their performance against Portugal merited a victory and it was fitting in the end that they qualified at the expense of Cristiano Ronaldo and his team. The USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann has achieved a minor miracle in whipping up public support for ‘soccer.’ The game against Portugal was the most viewed televised match in the country’s history with an estimated audience of 24.7 million. The squad is united under Klinsmann’s passionate approach to management and a second round tie with Belgium is not an insurmountable task.

Chile’s performance in group B was viewed as a surprise by some. However, given the events of the last year it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Their performance last November in beating England 2-0 at Wembley in distinctly un-South American conditions was highly impressive and marked them down as potential dark horses. They were equally adept in disposing of world champions Spain in their second group match in one of the most committed team displays of the tournament so far. Their squad is young and the players are able to pound every blade of grass relentlessly. Spain and Australia simply could not cope with the energy of the Chilean players. However, a defeat to an under strength Dutch side in the final group game shows that genuinely quality sides can get themselves one step ahead. Brazil in the second round may be too much for Chile.

With a population of just under 4 million, Costa Rica were by far the smallest and lowest ranked nation in Group B. However, they belied their lowly status by catching Uruguay cold in the first match. They followed that up in the second match by completely outhinking the Italians in one of the great tactical displays of the group stages. This was no plucky, lucky underdog story Instead the Ticos were superior to Italy in every area of the pitch. A nil-nil draw with England secured top spot in the group and provided us with one of the great world cup stories of recent times. Can you remember the last time that the fourth seeded team won their group? A last sixteen tie with Greece provides Costa Rica with a great chance of making the quarter finals.

Mexico have been a joy to watch from the word go. in the first match against Cameroon they were denied two first half goals in controversial circumstances yet they maintained their discipline and eventually earned a 1-0 victory. Against Brazil, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa produced one of the finest displays by a stopper in a world cup finals match. One particular save from a Neymar header drew comparisons with Gordon Banks’ block to deny Pele in 1970 and is undoubtedly the save of the tournament so far. Mexico were far too good for Croatia in the winner takes all final group match and the joy of manager Miguel Herrera as his team scored three second half goals was one of the most priceless images of the tournament. Mexico have been solid in all three of their games, Ivan Perisic’s late consolation goal for Croatia was the only goal Ochoa conceded in the group stages. They have the joint best defensive record in the tournament with Costa Rica thought they will be severely tested by the firepower of the Netherlands in the second round.

Finally, Colombia have been the most impressive of the American outfits so far. Shorn of their best player Radamel Falcao on the eve of the tournament, they have still managed to blow aside all three of their Group C opponents. James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez have struck up an impressive partnership up front that has seen the pair score five of their team’s nine goals between them. Rodriguez’s goal against Japan in Colombia’s final match was one of the goals of the tournament so far however, the 4-1 victory will be remembered for the wonderful moment when 43 year old goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon was brought on as a substitute and subsequently broke Roger Milla’s record as the oldest player to appear in a world cup match. It was a gesture that epitomised the spirit of the Colombian team at this moment in time. They play Uruguay in the second round. The Uruguayans will be without Luis Suarez who has rightly been hit with a four month worldwide ban for his bite on Giorgio Chiellini. The reaction of the Uruguayan camp in the aftermath of Suarez’s latest indiscretion has been unsavoury at best. The circus surrounding Suarez has unfairly distracted from the achievements of all the South American sides, including Brazil and Argentina. To a man they have shown a commitment to entertaining and virtuoso football (Uruguay excepted) and they have each embodied the spirit of this sensational competition.

It would therefore, be a fitting and poetic moment if Colombia were to dispatch Uruguay in the second round not just for the American teams but for the tournament itself.


Costa Rica Team Preview

The Players

Keylor Navas goalkeeper, Levante

Johnny Acosta defender, Alajuelense

Giancarlo González defender, Columbus Crew

Michael Umaña defender, Saprissa

Celso Borges midfielder, AIK

Óscar Duarte defender, Club Brugge

Christian Bolaños midfielder, Copenhagen

Heiner Mora defender, Saprissa

Joel Campbell forward, Olympiacos

10 Bryan Ruiz (captain) forward, PSV Eindhoven

11 Michael Barrantes midfielder, Aalesund

12 Waylon Francis defender, Columbus Crew

13 Oscar Granados midfielder, Herediano

14 Randall Brenes forward, Cartaginés

15 Júnior Díaz defender, Mainz

16 Cristian Gamboa defender, Rosenborg

17 Yeltsin Tejeda midfielder, Saprissa

18 Patrick Pemberton goalkeeper, Alajuelense

19 Roy Miller defender, New York Red Bulls

20 Diego Calvo midfielder, Valerenga

21 Marco Ureña forward, Kuban Krasnodar

22 José Miguel Cubero midfielder, Herediano

23 Daniel Cambronero goalkeeper, Herediano

Star man

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Bryan Ruiz, nicknamed “The Weasel” in his days at Alajuelense, is the side’s key creator as attacking midfielder or second striker. Unappreciated at Fulham he is thriving after being sent on loan to PSV Eindhoven.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Alvaro Saborio was top scorer in qualifying but has a hot temper, once reportedly kicking a ball at a child during an open training session.

The coach

Standing at 5ft 5in, Jorge Luis Pinto bears all the hallmarks of short-man syndrome. Never short of a terse word in press conferences.

Grudge match

Costa Rica is sometimes known as the Switzerland of Central America because of its peaceable nature but there is no shortage of passion when it comes to fighting Honduras for regional football supremacy. Any meeting between the sides would also have the added flavour of pitting two Colombian coaches against each other.

Holed up

The team have asked for the Hotel Mendes Plaza to build a large relaxation room with sofas, TVs and videogames. It’s in the port city of Santos, so they can perk themselves up at the Coffee Museum or hope some magic will rub off from the statue of the local club’s most famous player, Pelé.

How they qualified
Beat the USA and Mexico on their way to second place in the six-team North American group.

World Cup high
Reaching the last 16 at Italia ’90, beating Scotland and – more impressively – Sweden in the process.

World Cup low
Losing all three of their group games, conceding nine goals, in Germany in 2006.

Familiar faces
Bryan Ruiz (Fulham).

Title odds: 1000/1

The stereotype is …
An impeccably-drilled outfit of small, compact midfielders and big, leggy strikers.

The reality is …
An impeccably-drilled outfit of defenders, defenders and more defenders. Pinto likes his 5-4-1 formation, and against the bigger nations, expect it to get another outing.

What are they known for?
Outstanding natural beauty 56 per cent
Fleeting but unbreakable bond with Derby County 44 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
In the tenacious battle of fruitful work, reddening the face of man, conquered your children, simple peasants eternal renown, esteem and honour.

Just under two minutes.

How to dress like their fans

Slip on a poncho and make it rain with ticker tape. Look unimpressed if anyone asks you the way to San Jose.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Costa Rica has no standing army. Cue plenty of jokes about having a shabby defence.