Bryan’s boys shook up world but this time it’s tougher

Daily Star Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Hector Nunns

BRYAN RUIZ ad­mits it will be a lot tougher for Costa Rica to shock the world all over again.

Four years ago in Brazil the Cen­tral Amer­i­cans – known as Los Ti­cos – came within a penalty shootout of reach­ing the semi-fi­nals af­ter a stun­ning run of per­for­mances. Their dream was even­tu­ally ended by Hol­land in the last eight but they were still one of the sto­ries of the tour­na­ment. Some­how they man­aged to top a group that in­cluded Uruguay, Italy and a dis­mal Eng­land who fin­ished bot­tom with just a sin­gle point to their name.

Greece were next. Sokratis Pa­pas­tathopou­los’s in­jury-time equaliser took the match into ex­tra time af­ter Ruiz had fired his team in front. Costa Rica, down to 10 men for al­most an hour af­ter Os­car Duarte’s red card, scored their first four spot-kicks. The­o­fa­nis Gekas missed for Greece and Michael Umana set­tled the tie.

That meant a first ever World Cup Quar­ter-Fi­nal and while Hol­land could not beat them in reg­u­lar time, a penalty shootout ended their in­cred­i­ble cam­paign.

But the ex­ploits of the boys of

2014 have raised ex­pec­ta­tions back home this time ahead of Group E games against Brazil, Ser­bia and Switzer­land.

For­mer Ful­ham for­ward Ruiz,

32, is still his coun­try’s tal­is­man with 101 caps and 23 goals to his name – in­clud­ing two at the 2014 World Cup against Italy and Greece.

And he said: “We aren’t go­ing to catch any­one by sur­prise at this World Cup, we know that.

“It was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence for the coun­try in Brazil last time and the fact it was a bit un­ex­pected made it even bet­ter. When we were drawn in a group with Eng­land, Italy and Uruguay – of course we knew that it was go­ing to be very hard to qual­ify.

“Any of those teams could have gone a long way – so to fin­ish top was amaz­ing and to see Eng­land fin­ish bot­tom with just a point was a big sur­prise.

“The 0-0 draw in the third game against Eng­land may not have been the best match but we came top of the group.”

The game was a dead rub­ber for Roy Hodg­son’s men af­ter Eng­land’s losses to Italy and Uruguay – but af­ter shock wins over Uruguay and Italy, Costa Rica had the op­por­tu­nity to top Group D, which the dull stale­mate en­sured they did.

Ruiz added: “Then, of course, we came within a penalty shootout of reach­ing the semis, beat­ing Greece in the last 16 and then los­ing to Hol­land. Some­times you just get a re­ally good squad of play­ers and a to­geth­er­ness.

“We had that in Brazil and it changed my life per­son­ally.

“But ev­ery­one knows it will be even harder to do well in Rus­sia. The squad is dif­fer­ent and older and we have had some mixed re­sults in the re­cent friendlies.

“Our per­for­mance four years ago raised ex­pec­ta­tions back home and, as ev­ery­one knows, that can cre­ate dif­fi­cul­ties.

“We are in there with Brazil this time, and it will be an hon­our go­ing up against the likes of Ney­mar – we will re­spect them, but will try to play with­out fear. It will be very tough.

“On pa­per you might think we are try­ing to get sec­ond place with Switzer­land and Ser­bia but then we all re­mem­ber what hap­pened last time.

“You never know what can hap­pen.”

Costa Rica kick-off their cam­paign against Ser­bia next Sun­day fol­lowed by tour­na­ment favourites Brazil and then a po­ten­tial de­cider against Switzer­land.

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