Through "CONCACAF Retro" you will revisit the region's most memorable people, events and crowning achievements.
Ticos compete in first world competition - Moscow 1980
By Rodrigo A. Calvo Castro
After attempts to qualify for the 1968 and 1976 Olympic Games failed, the third time proved to be the charm for Costa Rica, when it reached the finals of its first-ever major world competition - the 1980 Olympic Games.
The Ticos won a three-team CONCACAF Final Round group on goal difference over runner-up USA to book their ticket for Moscow.After opening with a 1-1-1 record, Costa Rica - in its last group game -- defeated host Surinam 3-2 on March 30, 1980 at the SV Robinhood Stadium in Paramaribo.
"We traveled to Surinam very tense and obliged to win," recalled defender Marvin Obando, now 51-years-old."We knew that it was an environment similar to that of Puerto Limón (in Costa Rica), with a difficult climate because of the humidity.
"The opponent was not very technical, but their players were quick, powerful, and strongly built.In the end, our national team was very good and we got the needed result to progress to Moscow."
Costa Rica had to survive two rounds of Central American qualifying to reach the CONCACAF finals.It eliminated Panama in a two-legged Central American Zone First Round series with wins of 4-0 and 2-0 (both games were held in San José, Costa Rica on May 22 and 25, 1979).
The Central American Zone Second Round pairing against Guatemala was more problematic.They spilt the first two games, with the home team losing on both occasions.A play-off decider was held on August 26, 1979, in San Salvador, El Salvador, which the Ticos won 1-0.
To start the CONCACAF Final Round, Costa Rica (coached by Antonio Moyano Reina of Spain), squeezed past visiting Surinam 3-2 (March 12, 1980) and, then, fell 1-0 at home to the USA (March 20, 1980).
The return match against the Stars & Stripes was played five days later in extremely cold and windy conditions at Ralph Korte Stadium on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.Don Ebert gave the home side a first-half lead before Carlos Nicanor Toppings equalized in the 72nd minute.
"In the USA, we played in below zero temperatures," remembered Obando."Just to warm up the body in the face of all that cold, they offered us a shot of cognac before the game and we played covered up in gloves.
"It was awful because of the temperature."
Costa Rica was closing in on an Olympic berth, but a trip to Surinam for a March 30 game still remained.In that encounter, the Central Americans took a 2:0 first-half lead on goals by Jorge White (36') and Rodolfo Mills (41').
Several defensive errors by the Ticos in the second half, though, allowed the host to get back in the game and know the score.Siegfred Rustenberg struck in the 51st minute followed by Kenneth Stewart equalizer at the hour mark.
It was not until the 86th minute-mark that White would score his second goal of the match, sealing a 3-2 win Costa Rica.
"It costs us a lot to win," recalled Moyano Reina, during an interview with the newspaper "La Nación", in October 2009."We couldn't even go out on the street to celebrate, because there was a coup d'état going on in Surinam.
"There was much enthusiasm because our first feat would make us known to the world during the Olympics and, then, Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo called us."
Obando, who played in 51 international games with the full Costa Rican national team, agreed with Moyano Reina: "It almost cost us the game, but we always perform at our best in a modest stadium and in front of a huge crowd like in Paramaribo.We were too overconfident leading 2-0 and, then, Surinam came back to tie us with two goals of their own. I played almost the entire game (77 minutes) and the muggy heat of a very warm climate was also felt by the entire team.The game became an uphill one for us, but we were able to win."
Costa Rican football was now on the world map and the team returned home the next day to a nation-wide party of choruses, bands, and unbridled appreciation.
"The team's reception at Juan Santamaria International Airport was very good, for it being the first time that a Costa Rican team qualified to a global event," Obando said.
Obando also gave Moyano Reina credit for his own personal, as well as Costa Rica's, success.
"I had started in the first division in 1979 and coach Moyano Reina always called me up for the teams, which led to appearances in Moscow, Los Angeles, Mexico and Italy as he so had much confidence in me," commented Obando, the only Costa Rican to compete in two Olympic Games (1980 and 1984) and a World Cup finals (1990)."My career was an honor for me and I'm proud to be part of my country's football history."
Obando, who played for six Costa Rican clubs in his 22-year career, continued: "The direction of Mr. Moyano Reina helped us qualify.He was a hardworking man, well prepared in coaching technique, concerned about the player, very meticulous and took care of all the details, so that the player enters the field in an elegant way, apart from the fact that he was a good person and a great trainer."
In Moscow, Costa Rica's Olympic experience was short-lived, as it lost its three Group D games (Iraq, 3-0; Yugoslavia, 3-2; Finland, 3-0).
"At the Olympics, we lived another story and we encountered another reality, with many limitations," analyzed Obando."Everything impressed us, even the inauguration and the stadiums, as it was the first time we had attended a world event.
"Our opponents were very complex. From far away, they made an impression with their strength and physical stoutness.We felt very green.At least there, a door opened for us and our country made itself known in the soccer world."
NOTE: Obando holds the record for most games played in the Costa Rican first division with 685.
Costa Rica Roster - 1980 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament
GOALKEEPERS: Alejandro González (LD Alajuelense), Didier Gutiérrez (Puntarenas FC), Julio Morales (CS Cartaginés)
DEFENDERS:Minor Alpízar (Ramonense), Álvaro Castro (Puntarenas FC), Ricardo García (Puntarenas FC), Javier Masís (Deportivo Saprissa), Fernando Montero Poveda (CS Cartaginés), Marvin Obando (CS Herediano), Carlos Nicanor Toppings (Puntarenas FC), Juan Diego Ulate (AD San Carlos)
MIDFIELDERS: Róger Álvarez (CS Herediano), Wílliam Avila (AD San Carlos), Francisco Hernández (Deportivo Saprissa), Rodolfo Mills (LD Alajuelense), Herberth Quesada (CS Cartaginés), Tomás Velásquez (Puntarenas FC)
FORWARDS:Javier Jiménez (LD Alajuelense), Fernando Montero Mata (CS Herediano), Carlos Torres (LD Alajuelense), Jorge White (CS Cartaginés)
TD:Antonio MOYANO REINA
Costa Rica Results
Central American Zone
22.05.1979: Costa Rica - Panama 4:0
25.05.1979: Panama - Costa Rica 0:2
25.07.1979: Costa Rica - Guatemala 1:2
05.08.1979: Guatemala - Costa Rica 0:1
26.08.1979: Costa Rica - Guatemala 1:0
CONCACAF Final Round
12.03.1980: Costa Rica - Surinam 3:2
20.03.1980: Costa Rica - USA 0:1
25.03.1980: USA - Costa Rica 1:1
30.03.1980: Surinam - Costa Rica 2:3
Rodrigo A. Calvo Castro writes for La Nación, a newspaper in Costa Rica, and is a distinguished Costa Rican football historian
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