- Cover Story - World Cup Fever

As Costa Rica heads to Rus­sia, true be­liev­ers keep hope alive

Howler Magazine - - Featured Contents - By Karl Kahler

Costa Rica has the best fút­bol team in Cen­tral Amer­ica, backed by a man who is among the best goalies in the world.

Screams of agony and ec­stasy will erupt si­mul­ta­ne­ously in the early-morn­ing hours all over Costa Rica. Pro­duc­tiv­ity in the work­place will grind to a halt, and a mys­te­ri­ous ill­ness may prompt thousands of peo­ple to call in sick. Grown men will give bear hugs to to­tal strangers in front of big-screen TVs — if not sob tears of grief in their arms.

Un­less you've been adrift at sea for the last few months, you prob­a­bly know that the Costa Ri­can soc­cer team is go­ing to the World Cup in Rus­sia this month, and peo­ple are a lit­tle bit ex­cited.

Costa Rica has the best fút­bol team in Cen­tral Amer­ica, backed by a man who is among the best goalies in the world. This will be the Ti­cos' fifth visit to the World Cup, four years af­ter they de­fied all ex­pec­ta­tions in Brazil by sur­viv­ing to the quar­ter­fi­nals.

As luck would have it, their sec­ond match in Rus­sia will be against pow­er­house Brazil. The fa­vorites to win it all in the 32-coun­try tour­na­ment are de­fend­ing cham­pion Ger­many, fol­lowed by Brazil, Bel­gium, Por­tu­gal and Ar­gentina. One odd­s­maker in De­cem­ber gave Costa Rica a 1 in 250 chance of win­ning.

But hope springs eter­nal.

Set your alarm

Un­for­tu­nately for fans (and sports bars) in Tiqui­cia, the Ti­cos' first two games will be­gin at 6 a.m. Costa Rica time. They play Ser­bia on June 17 in Sa­mara, Rus­sia, and then face Brazil on June 22 in St. Peters­burg. (The game against Switzer­land on June 27 in Nizhny Nov­gorod will be at noon Costa Rica time, so don't be sur­prised if the en­tire coun­try takes the world's long­est lunch break.)

The time­line presents a prob­lem for sports bars and other venues that would nor­mally be packed wall-to-wall with scream­ing fans swill­ing beers. In most places it's il­le­gal to sell al­co­hol be­fore 11 a.m., and many fans may be dis­in­clined to toast their team with a cup of cof­fee or a glass of orange juice. (Maybe bring a flask?)

Time zones were not a big prob­lem four years ago, as most of Brazil is just three hours

ahead of Costa Rica. World Cup 2014 was a huge money-maker here for bars and big TVs. This year, prob­a­bly not so much.

But maybe it's good prac­tice for 2022 in Qatar, which is in the same time zone as Moscow.

‘Fan’ is short for ‘fa­natic’

Two fans who will be go­ing to Rus­sia this month are Juan Car­los Ruiz, 40, and Man­fred Robert,

43, of Playas del Coco — and they should be easy to spot in the stands in their red-white-and­blue face and body paint.

Juan Car­los said he learned to paint his body from a man who paints naked women (good work if you can get it). At the 2006 World Cup in Ger­many, Juan Car­los posed for a photo with for­mer pres­i­dent Os­car Arias and got paint on the No­bel lau­re­ate's fancy jacket.

Juan Car­los and Man­fred went to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, and they'll be spend­ing three weeks in Rus­sia this year with a group of 16 friends. In 2022, they say, they'll be there for the World Cup in Qatar, too.

“Brazil was mad­ness,” said Man­fred. “We were the Madonna.”

“Costa Rica was the sen­sa­tion of the World Cup,” said Juan Car­los, “be­cause they beat the ‘Group of Death,' against Eng­land, Italy and Uruguay — all world cham­pi­ons.”

Juan Car­los and Man­fred al­ready have paid around $5,000 each in fixed costs, and they're look­ing at spend­ing a to­tal of about $10,000, “count­ing fi­esta.”

So what drives this kind of fan­dom?

A life­long pas­sion

“It's a pas­sion, since we were lit­tle, the pas­sion for foot­ball,” said Man­fred. “You live foot­ball since you're lit­tle, in grade school, in high school, in the neigh­bor­hood. To play foot­ball all you need is a ball, and it can be made out of pa­per. So it's a sport that is very, very pop­u­lar here in Costa Rica.”

The fút­bol fans will be skip­ping the first game, with Ser­bia, but will be there to watch the Ti­cos play Brazil.

“Sin­cerely and real­is­ti­cally, I pre­dict an hon­or­able loss,” said Juan Car­los. “We need to beat ei­ther Ser­bia or Switzer­land, and at least tie with the other.”

The pals will also be there for the game against Switzer­land. If Costa Rica ad­vances, they prob­a­bly would play the win­ner of four-time world cham­pion Ger­many vs. Mex­ico. Do you be­lieve in mir­a­cles?

“The ex­pe­ri­ence of a World Cup is … it's bet­ter than the Olympics,” said Man­fred. “It's like go­ing to the Su­per Bowl, but ev­ery day for a month.”

Man­fred Robert and Juan Car­los Ruiz on their way to a World Cup 2014 match in Brazil. Photo: Juan Car­los Ruiz

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