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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

At the airport, Costa Rican soccer fans greet U.S. team with heckling, egg tossing

Costa Ricans greeted the U.S. men’s national soccer team with jeers and chants of “U-S-A. No fair play.” Fans tossed eggs at the U.S. team’s tour bus. Some Ticos asked taxi drivers to arrange a traffic jam as the bus left the Juan Santamaría International Airport outside the capital and headed to the Marriott on Tuesday night.

Fans of the Costa Rican national team, known as “La Sele,” have stewed for months over the last time the U.S. and Costa Rica met in a World Cup qualifying match. In a blizzard, the U.S. defeated the Ticos, 1-0, last March in Denver, Colorado. Members of the Costa Rican squad said after the game they thought the match should’ve been postponed. They protested the result to FIFA to no avail. Supporters felt cheated out of crucial points in the race to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Costa Rica’s team will have their shot at vengeance at 8 p.m. on Friday in western San José’s National Stadium. But expect fans to ostracize the visiting team throughout the week. The heckling started as soon as the U.S. team exited the airport at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday. A Costa Rican Facebook page is trying to organize a raucous demonstration during the U.S. team’s practices in El Coyol de Alajuela, north of the capital, on Wednesday.

With four games remaining, the U.S. leads Concacaf qualifying with 13 points. The Ticos remain in second place with 11 points, and a victory Friday would move the home team into first place. The top three finishers in Concacaf automatically qualify for the World Cup. If the U.S. triumphs this weekend, they’ll be the first team to clinch in the region.

The U.S. has has never won a qualifying match in Costa Rica. In 2009, the U.S. visited Costa Rica for a qualifying match and the Ticos won 3-1 in Ricardo Saprissa Stadium. But this year’s team might be the best the U.S. has ever fielded. Under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. enters Friday night’s showdown riding a record-setting 12-game winning streak that includes the snow game.

Even before the blizzard match, Ticos also had a right to be bitter about playing the United States with a World Cup berth on the line. The U.S. and Costa Rica faced off in the final qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup on Oct. 14, 2009. That game was meaningless for the U.S., having already qualified. Meanwhile, Costa Rica needed a victory to earn a spot in the World Cup in South Africa. With less than a minute remaining, the United States scored to tie the game and push the Ticos to the brink of elimination. (Costa Rica had one last shot to qualify in a playoff with Uruguay, but the Ticos didn’t stand much of a chance against the talented South American squad.)

Nevertheless, many Costa Ricans felt the egg slinging and booing that occurred Tuesday evening was unwarranted. They voiced displeasure on social media, often calling the spectacle a “verguenza” or “pena” (a “shame” and “embarrassment”).

Tweeted one observer: “Terribly sad about the traffic jams and eggs directed at the U.S. team. Do you not understand that revenge is in the game, the goals?”

Matt Levin is a correspondent for The Tico Times.

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