India never made it big in the history of football, but as Indians we always have a penchant for football and would someday wish that we too could hear our national anthem being played in front of a huge crowd. One may not know but there is a huge fan following in the world’s largest democracy and every World Cup the streets line up with fans in various national jerseys, and national flags of participating teams adorn houses and streets. While most Indians are die-hard fans of England, Germany, Argentina, Brazil and Italy recently quite a lot have become fans of Mexico, Uruguay and surprisingly Costa Rica. The story behind the rising fans of Costa Rican football team in India is quite surprising.
Costa Rica’s exploits during the 2002 World Cup against the PRC and a strong Turkey earned accolades in India, while its strong resistance against Germany in 2006, when it replied with 2 crucial goals against 4 from the German side made many football fans in India take notice of the small Central American country. However, nothing comes as far as its performance in the 2014 World Cup.
Clubbed into the Group of Death with football behemoths such as Italy, England and Uruguay it was already believed that that La Sele could not even make it past the group stage. Already Indian fans of England, Italy and Uruguay were overly pessimistic about the Central American country’s performance. Much to their chagrin and surprise not only did La Sele make it to the round of sixteen but they also topped the Group of Death.
On June 15th 2014, Cavani broke Costa Rican hearts with his converted penalty and the ominous signs were quickly turning into reality when in the 54th minute Joel Campbell equalised. His iconic celebration covered the sports section of every Indian newspaper. Duarte and Ureña added to the lead with the Ticos ending the match on a winning note. While defeating a formidable Uruguay did raise eyebrows in India, nothing came short of defeating historic footballing nation like Italy and holding off a much hyped England to a goalless draw. On the 20th of June 2014 Bryan Ruíz’s goal put the Ticos past the Azzuri and even though the Italians had the upper hand in ball possession, the Ticos prevailed. Holding off England to a goalless draw was another feather in the cap of the Ticos which again shocked many English fans in India, particularly from the Northeast region of India who never expected it.
Costa Rica’s scintillating performance against Greece which ended on penalties finally ensured that many Indians now favoured the Ticos and believed that they would surprise even further. Indeed for many, the amazing gameplay of the Ticos earned the attention and respect of many in India. The disappointment came against the Netherlands which ended the dream run again on penalties but everyone in a football loving nation like India did take notice. During that time, Costa Rican flags and mementos suddenly became popular all over India especially in the football hotspots of Northeast India, Kolkata and Goa. People in fact made homemade Costa Rican flags hoisting them up on their houses to show their appreciation. The tournament ended with Germany emerging as the champions, but Costa Rica earned the moniker of being the Giant Killers and all over India there were more discussions on mainstream media and newsprints about the exploits of los Ticos than the final result. In fact coach Jorge Luis Pinto was the most sought after man and many football experts believed that he could guide the Blue Tigers better.
Costa Rica soon became one of the most sought after footballing nations in India, with Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruíz, Christian Bolaños, Joel Campbell, Michael Umaña, Ceslo Borges and Jhonny Acosta becoming household names. Indians still have a hope to someday qualify for the Football World Cup and are inspired by Costa Rica, some even argue that it is important for us to develop footballing ties with La Sele in order to learn and gain experience.
The end result was the translation of football into a serious interest in Costa Rica as a country as well. Most Indians started reading about the small Central American country and were surprised about its miniscule population, the lack of a standing army and its rich biodiversity. While distance divides the two countries the passion for football unites them, with a little bit of encouragement and coordination India can learn a lot from Costa Rica and this can usher into a new arena of mutual symbiotic relationship.