Costa Rica faces in Australia and New Zealand its second participation in a World Cup without the “historic” scorer Shirley Cruz by technical decision, but with “joy” to compete without giving up in a “difficult” group with Spain, Japan and Zambia.
The Ticas (36th in the FIFA ranking) arrive at the World Cup with the absence of the most important player in the history of women’s soccer in the Central American country: Shirley Cruz, who at 37 years of age retired on June 8 without being able to say goodbye at the World Cup.
The coaching staff led by Amelia Valverde decided to dispense with the hitherto captain, not without generating controversy, with the idea of strengthening a group with promising young players mixed with veterans.
“Shirley has been Costa Rica’s all-time great, the greatest for me. I know that for the majority,” said Maria Paula Salas (from Monterrey, Mexico) to AFP, who at 20 years of age is one of those called to take over the goalscoring duties at the front of ‘la Sele’.
Without ‘la Capi’
The national team will face an official tournament for the first time without ‘la Capi’ based on “joy” and “not giving up,” Salas highlighted.
Cruz led Costa Rica in the first World Cup they played in Canada in 2015, where they did not advance past the group stage.
From Costa Rica’s coaching staff, Javier Eli Ávila, the goalkeeper coach, highlighted Cruz as “a benchmark in women’s soccer” who has the respect of her own and others.
Cruz won the Champions League (2011 and 2012) with Olympique Lyon, a team with which she won the French league six times. In Costa Rica she won the local tournament with San José, Liga Deportiva Alajuelense, the club where she hung up her boots with one last title.
“All of Costa Rica admires her,” said Avila, although he stressed that it is now the turn of the new generations to follow the path that Cruz opened.
Eight years after the first World Cup, Costa Rica is back at soccer’s biggest tournament and will be looking to “do better” than in Canada 2015, Avila said.
He highlights of his players “the tactical order and how battle-hardened they are”.
The member of the coaching staff stresses that they were drawn in a “difficult group”. Spain (6th in the FIFA rankings) as group leaders, the 2011 world champions Japan (11th in the FIFA rankings) and an excited Zambia (77th in the FIFA rankings), who are making their debut in the top national team competition.
“The best teams in the world are at the World Cup, it’s a celebration of soccer. We’re going for results, regardless of which team is in front. If not, I think it would be better if we didn’t go,” added the striker.
Costa Rica’s first game against Spain will take place on July 21. To be ready for that game, the players have been training for weeks in Costa Rica to fine-tune their gear.
“We are very motivated. Every training session is taken with the utmost seriousness. We know that we want to go to compete and nothing else. We want to go to win the games,” said 18-year-old goalkeeper Genesis Perez, a starter for the U-20s but making her senior debut.
So far, Costa Rica has played five friendlies in 2023 and the record is two draws (1-1 against Colombia and 1-1 against Mexico) and three defeats (1-0 against Nigeria, 2-1 with Poland and 4-0 against Scotland).
Prior to the World Cup debut, the team greased the wheels at the Central American and Caribbean Games in El Salvador, where they faced Guatemala, Haiti and Venezuela in the group stage, with one win and two defeats.