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Friday, February 23, 2024

Tens of thousands of Ticos descend on National Stadium for crucial World Cup qualifier match

Costa Ricans journeyed to the National Stadium in western San José for a critical qualifying game, which many see as a chance for revenge after a snow-covered game in the U.S. in March. Fans battled a typical rainy season downpour and a more-than-typical San José traffic jam to get to La Sabana Park, on the western edge of the capital.

One pair of friends from the Zona de los Santos, in the south-central region of the country, arrived at the stadium three hours before the match. One of them, Augusto Mesa, 35, said the game meant “everything” for Costa Rica.

“I’d classify it as a revenge match for the snow in Colorado,” Mesa said.

The U.S. had played Costa Rica in an earlier qualifying match in Denver. An unseasonal snowfall blanketed the field during the game, which the U.S. won 1-0. The game stopped during the snowfall, but later resumed under both teams’ approval. A controversy emerged because Costa Rica only had 24 hours to file a formal protests, but due to traffic problems, could not find access to computers to file the official complaint to FIFA in time.

Later, a man from the north-central province of Heredia arrived with his nephew. Rolando Cartín had a more practical outlook on the game’s importance.

“It’s important to be part of the world community,” Cartín said. “We want to go to Brazil, we need to be part of the World Cup.”

Costa Rica currently is battling for a qualifying position to go to Brazil. The team failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In the North America group, three of the six teams will qualify based on their points. Costa Rica currently sits in second place with 11 points, behind the U.S. with 13. Trailing Costa Rica are Mexico with 8 points and Honduras with 7 points. Each team has three matches remaining, and winning a game will net a team 3 points.

Amid the entrants who sported bright red jerseys and waved the Costa Rican flag, others took advantage of the event to scalp last-minute tickets, sell vuvuzelas, and paint flags on the faces of entrants.

One pair of women from southeastern San José stood outside the gate offering their face-painting services.

“The game is good for business,” Alejandra Monge said. “But it’s also important for the country’s qualification. But it doesn’t matter, I will paint a Costa Rican flag or a U.S. flag if you want.”

Even a small number of U.S. residents made it to the match. Two men from Dallas came down to see the heated game and enjoy a bachelor party. K.D. Wilbanks, who was getting married, said it was nice to come to a country where soccer is appreciated.

“For a U.S. fan, visiting an away game, this is the only place you could go that was safe,” Wilbanks said.


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