The most important 36 hours of the year for Costa Rican soccer begin Tuesday. At noon, the Costa Rican under-20 national team will play Brazil in the semifinals of the Under-20 FIFA World Cup, which is being held in Egypt. The U-20s are the first-ever Costa Rican soccer team to advance to the semifinals of any World Cup.
The following evening, Wednesday at 6 p.m., the national men´s team, La Sele, will play the United States in the final qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
La Sele beat Trinidad and Tobago 4-0 on Saturday night to move into third place in the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region with 15 points – two points ahead of Honduras, who are in fourth place. The top three teams in CONCACAF earn automatic qualification to the World Cup, while the fourth place team plays in a two-game play-off series with the fifth place team from the South American CONMEBOL region.
The U.S. and Mexico are in first and second place respectively in the CONCACAF region and officially clinched spots in the World Cup with wins Saturday night.
In light of the historic week of soccer, during halftime of Saturday´s Costa Rica versus Trinidad game at Ricardo Saprissa Stadium in Tibás, north of San José, President Oscar Arias announced that public employees will be granted part of an afternoon off Tuesday to watch the U-20s match with Brazil.
“I am going to sign an order on Monday so that the government employees can see the game Tuesday,” Arias said during the live broadcast. “The time off will be from noon to 3 p.m. on Tuesday. We feel very proud of what the under-20 team has done in Egypt, and it seems to me that the Costa Rican fans deserve to see the game.”
The U-20 team advanced to the semifinals with a dramatic 2-1 extra time win over the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the quarterfinal round Saturday. In a game that seemed destined for a penalty kick shootout, in the 122th minute – two minutes into added injury time – a save made by UAE goalkeeper Yousif Abdulrahman rebounded into the path of Costa Rican forward Marco Ureña, who struck a first-time blast through several UAE defenders and into the net. Ureña, who scored the game-clinching goal in the 2-0 win over Egypt in the quarterfinals, appeared to be brought to tears by his late goal, as he was mobbed by teammates in the corner of the field.
“We exploded with jubilation and joy at the final goal,” Coach Rónald González said after the game. “You don´t expect to score a goal at the end of extra time when both teams are exhausted. I was truly stunned that we were able to score that late.”
The U-20s are hoping Tuesday´s match will not be a repeat of their opening game of the World Cup against Brazil, which they lost 5-0.
As for the men, if the Ticos beat the U.S. or Honduras loses or ties against El Salvador, Costa Rica would qualify for the World Cup. If Costa Rica ties and Honduras wins, the two teams would have the same amount of points, but Honduras would clinch the third spot due to goal differential. If Honduras wins and Costa Rica loses, Honduras will advance to the World Cup and the Ticos would play in the play-off series against a South American team.
The Ticos looked good in their 4-0 rout of hapless Trinidad and Tobago and hope to carry the momentum into the game against the U.S. In June, Costa Rica beat the U.S. 3-1 in Costa Rica.