On the night of Oct. 14, 2009, in WashingtonD.C., U.S. midfielder Jonathan Bornstein headed in a corner kick in the 94th minute of a game against Costa Rica that evened the score of the World Cup qualifying match at 2-2.
Had Costa Rica held on for 20 more seconds, they would be participating in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which begins today in Johannesburg, South Africa.
But the Ticos didn’t hold on, and Bornstein’s goal gave Honduras the final World Cup spot from the International Soccer Federation’s North and Central America and Caribbean Region (Concacaf). Bornstein was hailed as a national hero in Honduras and offered a free vacation in the BayIslands by then-interim-President Roberto Micheletti.
As the World Cup gets underway, Bornstein’s goal haunts Costa Rica, as it will for years.
“Only God knows why it had to happen like that,” said Costa Rican defender Luis Marín a few weeks after the loss to the U.S. “I’ve never felt such pain after a game as I felt that night.”
The Ticos have made things even worse for themselves and their fans in recent weeks by proving they can compete with World Cup-caliber teams. In three international friendly matches against World Cup participants, Costa Rica beat Switzerland 1-0, narrowly fell to world power France 2-1 and were the victims of back luck, including an own-goal and a penalty kick, in a 3-0 loss at Slovakia.
“Overall, our three games here were very positive,” said midfielder Roy Myrie after the Slovakia game on Saturday. “We played very well at times and we faced some difficulties, but we learned a lot and proved to ourselves and our fans that we are still capable of competing with some of the better teams in the world.” If only they’d qualified.
Had Costa Rica qualified for this year’s World Cup, it would have been their third consecutive appearance and their fourth qualification since 1990, the country’s first, and by far it’s most successful, World Cup showing.
In the 1990 tournament in Italy, on June 11, Costa Rica entered onto the World Cup stage in memorable fashion, beating Scotland 1-0 on a goal by Juan Cayasso in the 49th minute, forever to be remembered as a historic moment in Costa Rican soccer and national history.
“We knew we weren’t favored to win, but coach Bora (Milutinovic) just told us to believe in ourselves and not to worry about our opponent,” Germán Chavarría, a midfielder on the Italy ’90 team, told The Tico Times this week. “When we won, we were euphoric and celebrating in the locker room. My parents called from Costa Rica to congratulate me and told me the country was celebrating and that they believed in us. It was a special feeling.” But Costa Rica didn’t stop there.
According to Chavarría, coach Milutinovic, who has led five different nations to the World Cup, asked the team if they were satisfied with just one win.
“He saw us celebrating and asked us what we wanted to accomplish,” Chavarría said. “Did we want to win one game? Two games? Advance to the second round? He asked us if we were satisfied with one win … he put bigger aspirations in our minds.”
The Ticos lost their second game to the eventual group winner Brazil 1-0, setting up a must-win game against Sweden in their third game in group play. If the Ticos won, they would qualify for the second round, something that had been unthinkable prior to the tournament.
In the June 20 game against Sweden, Costa Rica was outplayed in the first half, falling behind 1-0 when Swedish forward Johnny Ekstrom tapped in a rebound in the 32nd minute.
But Costa Rica fought back and, with only 15 minutes remaining, defender Róger Flores scored on a header in the 75th minute. Due to a Scotland loss to Brazil, a tie would have put Costa Rica through to the second round.
But La Sele wasn’t playing for a tie.
In the 88th minute, Swedish goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli punted the ball across the midway line, where Tico midfielder Alexandre Guimarães headed the ball into the path of forward Hernán Medford, who had a breakaway to the goal. Medford lifted the ball over Ravelli and into the net, guaranteeing the Ticos a place in the second round.
The goal sparked a national celebration, and the scene that day in Costa Rica was one of unparalleled euphoria and glory. People from all over the country flooded the streets to celebrate. Schools were closed, radio announcers wept, fireworks burst in the air, and people swam in the fountain of the San Pedro traffic circle. Although the Ticos lost their second round match-up with Czechoslovakia by a score of 4-1, the day of the Sweden win will always be remembered as a day of national ecstasy.
“I was nine years old at the time,” said Gerardo Coto, a historian for UNAFUT, the national soccer league governing body. “And I still remember it as one of the happiest days of my life. It was like an explosion of joy. Everyone in the country stopped to celebrate, to dance and to swim. We got out of school and stayed in the streets all day. No one stopped celebrating for three days.”
With almost twenty years between them, these two historic goals will forever carry great emotion for Costa Rican soccer fans. Bornstein’s goal will always be associated with anguish, disappointment, and what might have been, while Medford’s goal conjures a feeling of nostalgia and glory.
“It is a goal that I will always remember and am always reminded of,” Medford told The Tico Times this week. “It was a goal of great significance because it qualified us for the second round, which is something that Costa Rica had never done before. It was definitely the highlight of my professional soccer career.”