Costa Ricans live the impossible dream with a dramatic upset

Costa Ricans and friends gathered Saturday to see the national soccer team fight valiantly but unsuccessfully against the powerhouse from Uruguay.

They came to public places, to the homes of friends, to neighborhood bars.

The funeral was premature as an astonished cheer ripped through the land when Costa Rica scored its first goal to tie 1-1. Not only was this unexpected, but bookmakers had set high odds against Costa Rica ever scoring a goal in World cup competition.

The probability that Costa Rica actually would win the match 3-1 was infinitesimal.  The Uruguayan team expected a cake walk.

As the game clock marked the final seconds, Costa Rica erupted into a celebration that eclipsed anything in recent memory. Young fans poured out of Mall San Pedro into the Fuente de Hispanidad traffic circle slowing drivers and buses.

The honking of horns continued into the night. And the beer companies rejoiced.

There is a good chance that the Costa Rica team was astounded, too.

After his game-tying goal against Uruguay,  Joel Campbell stuck the ball under his shirt and his thumb in his mouth to honor the expected arrival of a newborn son with his pregnant girlfriend.

While Costa Rica’s 21-year-old striker sucked on his thumb in front of a worldwide audience, it was clear the match had veered towards the unpredictable. Three minutes later La Sele scored again to take the lead, and in the 84th minute Marco Ureña’s goal sealed the 3-1 upset over the heavily favored Uruguayans.

“It wasn’t a surprise for us,” Campbell said after Saturday’s opening game. “We came here to win. We wanted the points, and we went for them.”

Costa Rica now owns an early lead on Group D, holding the goal differential advantage over Italy, which beat England 2-1.

The surprise victory was also highlighted by a pair of acrobatic saves from Keylor Navas, including a last-second swat that denied Uruguay’s captain Diego Forlan from giving his side an early 2-0

Crowd takes the street and the Mall San Pedro balconies.

Crowd takes the street and the Mall San Pedro balconies.

lead.  Navas, La Liga’s goalkeeper of the year, was only beaten on a penalty kick in the 24th minute.

Following Costa Rica’s second goal, a diving header from Óscar Duarte on an unmolested free kick, the defense remained strong despite Uruguay’s overall advantage in possession time. Also benefiting the back line was the absence of La Celeste’s star forward Luis Suárez, who was sidelined with an injury.

Most of the conjecture over Group D leading up to the World Cup had to do with which of the three soccer powerhouses would be the two to advance. Analysts and oddsmakers had written Costa Rica off as poodles in a field of pit bulls, giving them slim odds of breaking through group stage and 1,000-to-1 odds of winning it all.

Though Italy and England remain favorites against La Sele, head coach Jorge Luis Pinto has his side believing that they belong.

“It’s an important win for us and it gives us hope, though we haven’t won anything yet,” Pinto said.

Costa Rica plays the Italian team Friday at 10 a.m, which will again be locally televised on Repretel, Teletica, and ESPN. Public watch parties have been set up for all the games at locations around the country, including spots at Plaza de la Democracia next to Museo Nacional and at Avenida Escazú.

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