- World Cup Spe­cial - Keylor Navas

Costa Ri­can Foot­ball’s Not-So-Se­cret Weapon

Howler Magazine - - Featured Contents - By Karl Kahler

Costa Rica has no short­age of na­tional he­roes: mil­i­tary mar­tyr Juan San­ta­maría, army abol­isher José Figueres, No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Os­car Arias, NASA as­tro­naut Franklin Chang Díaz.

But nowa­days none is bet­ter known (or loved) than Keylor Navas, 31, the hum­ble he-man who tends the net for Costa Rica's na­tional soc­cer team and for Span­ish pow­er­house Real Madrid. He is one of the very best goal­keep­ers in the world.

Just when you thought Navas had few sur­prises left up his sleeve, on May 1 he pulled off eight — eight! — amaz­ing saves for a 2-2 draw against Bay­ern Mu­nich to lead Real to the Cham­pion's League fi­nal for the fourth time in five years.

And this month, of course, he's headed to Rus­sia to rep­re­sent the

Ti­cos as they face Ser­bia, Brazil and Switzer­land in Group E of the FIFA World Cup.

Navas is no stranger to the 32-team cham­pi­onship, hav­ing as­ton­ished the soc­cer world four years ago in Brazil when com­pet­ing in the “Group of Death,” fac­ing world cham­pi­ons Eng­land, Italy and Uruguay. In­cred­i­bly, he al­lowed only one goal in three games as Costa Rica de­feated Uruguay 3-1 and Italy 1-0, with a score­less draw against Eng­land.

Costa Rica went on to elim­i­nate Greece 5-3 in a penalty shootout, ad­vanc­ing to the quar­ter­fi­nals for the first time in his­tory.

The Ti­cos fi­nally fell to the Nether­lands 4-3 on penal­ties. But Navas was de­clared “Man of the Match” in both knock­out games.

It was his stun­ning de­but in the

2014 World Cup that ce­mented his rep­u­ta­tion as among the best of the best.

Young Keylor

Navas was born in San Isidro de El Gen­eral (also known as Pérez Zeledón) in 1986. His par­ents

mi­grated to the U.S. when he was young, leav­ing him in the care of his grand­par­ents.

En­cour­aged by his grand­fa­ther, Juan, who drove him to foot­ball prac­tice in a rat­tle­trap Toy­ota, Keylor was ad­mit­ted to the club Es­cuela de Fút­bol Pe­dregoso when he was 8. His coach spot­ted and groomed the boy's tal­ent, and he re­mained with the club un­til age 14.

A few years later, he took the bus to San José to join Primera División power De­portivo Saprissa. Navas played in the goal for Saprissa from 2005 to 2010, help­ing the team win six Liga FPD ti­tles and the 2005 CONCACAF Cham­pi­ons' Cup.

Navas was signed by Al­bacete Balom­pié of Spain's Se­gunda

División in 2010, and later was loaned to Le­vante UD. In March

2014, he was named La Liga's Player of the Month, the first goalie to win the award.

The same year, Real Madrid trig­gered his €10 mil­lion buy­out clause and he signed a six-year con­tract with one of Europe's most sto­ried clubs. Many fans were shocked when Madrid tried to trade him to Manch­ester United in 2015, but the deal fell through be­cause the pa­per­work was sub­mit­ted late. Navas con­tin­ued to daz­zle for a team that didn't seem to want him.

Real Madrid went on to win the 2015-16 UEFA Cham­pion's League ti­tle, with Navas set­ting a team record by not al­low­ing a sin­gle goal in his first eight ap­pear­ances.

Rep­re­sent­ing his coun­try, Navas played in two CONCACAF Gold Cup tour­na­ments, and was named best goal­keeper in 2009, when Costa Rica reached the semi­fi­nals.

But it was his stun­ning de­but in the 2014 World Cup that ce­mented his rep­u­ta­tion as among the best of the best.

Now the world will be watch­ing as he takes the field in Rus­sia, and this time the world knows ex­actly who he is.

Navas mar­ried his girl­friend, Andrea Salas, in 2009, and they have two chil­dren. He be­came a Span­ish ci­ti­zen in 2014.

But you can bet the Ti­cos still claim him as 100% Costa Ri­can.

Keylor Navas of Real Madrid in ac­tion at the Copa del Rey match against UE Cor­nella on Oct. 29, 2014, in Barcelona. Real Madrid won 4-1.

Keylor Navas cel­e­brates with team­mates af­ter de­feat­ing Manch­ester United 2-1 dur­ing the Su­per Cup fi­nal soc­cer match at Philip II Arena in Skopje , Sept. 5, 2017

Navas tends the net in a Span­ish League match against RCD Es­panyol, May 17, 2015, Barcelona.Span­ish Kings Cup match against UE Cor­nella, Oct. 29, 2014, Barcelona.

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