Costa Rica (pictured) poses for a team photo prior to its FIFA Women's World Cup match against Brazil on June 17, 2015 in Moncton, Canada. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)
MONCTON, Canada – After narrowly missing out on a place in the knockout stages of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Costa Rica head coach Amelia Valverde couldn’t hide her emotions.
The Ticas were just edged 1-0 by Brazil in their last Group E match on Wednesday, leaving them short of securing one of the four best third-place records, which would have sealed advancement.
“I’m proud and honored to have represented my country,” said the 28-year-old Valverde, who assumed the managerial reins in January after Garabet Avedissian departed for another job. “We don’t have an army in Costa Rica, but this team fought like warriors.”
Despite missing out on the round of 16, the CONCACAF runner-up — competing in its first ever Women’s World Cup — departs Canada with heads held high, knowing it left an indelible impression on the game’s grandest stage.
Led by Valverde and metronomic midfielder Shirley Cruz, the Ticas exceeded all expectations. In their opener against highly-touted Spain, they looked poised and unshaken from beginning to end. Although the midfield battle between Cruz and Spanish playmaker Veronica Boquete stole the show, forward Raquel Rodriguez Cedeño famously tapped home the team’s first-ever tournament goal in the 14th minute. That tally was enough for a 1-1 draw.
Again wearing the underdog tag well, in its second outing against Korea Republic, Costa Rica gave fans everywhere a moment to remember. Down 2-1 in the closing stages of an exciting end-to-end affair, Costa Rican forward Karla Villalobos timed a run to perfection, coolly collecting a well-weighted through ball and expertly slotting home. Overwhelmed with delight, Villalobos ran off to the corner flag in celebration, teammates in tow, as the Costa Rican bench erupted in scenes of pure jubilation.
Brazil was always going to be a tough mountain to climb, even with superstar Marta sitting out. Valverde’s side, however, once more acquitted itself well against one of the world’s best.
“A lot of people thought we would let in a bucket-load of goals against Brazil, but again we showed how defensively solid we can be,” Valverde added.
While their efforts along the back-line were impressive, the Ticas showed more than just defensive solidarity over the last two weeks. They showed grit, bravery and a unique brand of confidence not often seen in tournament newcomers. They also showed that Costa Rican soccer is on the rise. They showed that with Valverde at the helm, the Costa Rican women are here to stay.