The idea of sports uniting an otherwise politically troubled region might seem a little dubious and superficial at first. But there really is something to it, it seems.
Costa Rica’s beloved national men’s football team, La Sele, is receiving lots of praise from throughout Central America (and the world, really) after dominating the so-called “Group of Death” during first-round play at the World Cup Brazil 2014.
The international love-fest started with Costa Rica’s shocking upset of higher-ranked Uruguay two weeks ago, with a score of 3-1. La Sele’s second goal in that match was scored by Óscar Duarte, a 25-year-old Nicaragua-born naturalized Tico. If you’ve ever traveled to or lived in Nicaragua or Costa Rica, you’ll understand the implications of this duality of citizenship and sport, particularly given the two countries’ historic political hostility.
Both countries have pending cases before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, over border spats that reached a boiling point in late 2010, when Costa Rica accused Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega of invading his southern army-less neighbor’s territory. Ortega then threatened to “reclaim” Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste, an outlandish burst of bravado that only deepened the animosity.
But that tension could be softening, thanks to La Sele. As Fusion’s Tim Rogers writes:
Duarte, however, has suddenly given Nicaraguans a homegrown hero to cheer for on the world’s biggest stage. His goal last Saturday has had the whole country buzzing all week in eager anticipation of Friday’s match between Costa Rica and Italy.
Watch Duarte’s goal:
The piropos have been coming in from all over the region. The latest is from Panamanian-born musical icon Rubén Blades, who wrote a letter to Costa Rican band Editus to praise the Ticos, not only for their World Cup play, but also for being a tiny nation that believes in itself.
An excerpt of the letter, posted on Blades’ Facebook, states:
What pride you must feel, justly so, for this triumph… which in spite of having to do with sports seems to me to transcend that boundary and transform into yet more proof of what a country like Costa Rica can be, within the realm of competition and international rivalry.
What we owe now to that representation of your country is never to forget the quality, passion, faith and total commitment of a team that dignifiedly represents the potential of the Costa Rican Nation, and in general, of ALL of Latin America.
Blades loves Costa Rica’s Editus, who played on his 2002 Grammy-winning album “Mundo” and have accompanied the salsa and Latin jazz icon in several performances and tours over the years. (Another Costa Rican band, Son de Tikizia, also have backed Blades on tour.) “They don’t even know how important they are in my life,” Blades once said of Editus, in an interview during a performance on the musical show “Sessions on West 54th.”
It’s a compliment the tiny nation – often dubbed one of the happiest countries on the planet – will happily embrace. And as Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís recently noted, the world’s eyes are now upon us. But politicians aren’t the ones who brought us to this pinnacle; it was a team of young, ambitious footballers, led by a brilliant Colombian coach, whose accomplishments will be remembered forever. ¡Vamos Ticos!
Costa Rica takes on Greece in the next round of World Cup play on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Watch Rubén Blades and Editus play “Sessions on West 54th”: