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Costa Rican side also qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup in 2005
The last international title won by a Costa Rican side occurred seven years ago (May 2005), when Deportivo Saprissa became the last non-Mexican side to capture oldest club competition in the region - the CONCACAF Champions' Cup.
Saprissa, located in the San Juan de Tibás area of San Jose, Costa Rica's capital, was led by head coach and former player Hernan Medford.
"That Saprissa team was very complete, possessing a good combination of players with experience and future young stars, which was a key fundamental for us to win the CONCACAF title in 2005," said former Saprissa goalkeeper Jose Francisco Porras.
By virtue of winning the confederation championship, the Morados qualified for the second FIFA Club World Cup later that year in Japan, where they finished third behind champion Sao Paulo of Brazil and runner-up England's Liverpool FC.
"Saprissa wanted to return to the level we were at before," commented Porras, who played for five Costa Rican clubs from 1989-2008."Our head coach, Hernan Medford, instilled much character as did our assistant coach Oscar Ramirez and physical trainer Marcelo Tulbovitz (of Uruguay).
"We all agreed that we wanted to reach a high standard at that level."
Saprissa's achievement gave Costa Rica a sixth CONCACAF club triumph, placing the Central American nation behind only Mexico (28 titles) for the most club championships in the confederation.
Apart from the three CONCACAF titles won by Saprissa (1993, 1995, 2005), LD Alajuelense (1986, 2004) and CS Cartaginés (1994) were also championship sides.
As the Costa Rican champion (2004 Clausura), Saprissa began its road to CONCACAF glory in October 2004 by eliminating Real Estelí FC of Nicaragua in a Torneo Interclubes de UNCAF (Central American Qualifying) second round home-and-away series.The Morados won the first-leg, 1-0, in Managua, before taking the return match 4-0 in San José.
The victory saw Saprissa progress into the Central American final group hosted by CSD Municipal of Guatemala in December 2004.The Morados finished second, playing CD Olimpia of Honduras to a scoreless draw, defeating El Salvador's CD F.A.S. (3-1), before suffering a 1-0 loss to Municipal.
As the Central American runner-up, Saprissa advanced to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, where the squad experienced a scare against its first opponent, the USA's Kansas City Wizards.
Following a first-leg goalless draw (March 9, 2005) in Kansas City, the Wizards took the lead in the return match a week later with a goal by Jose Burciaga Jr. (78').Gerald Drummond, however, became Saprissa's hero quickly afterwards, tying the match just before the final whistle and later scoring the game-winner five minutes into extra time.
The result set-up a dramatic semifinal series with Mexico's CF Monterrey.
In the opening match (April 6, 2005), Saprissa held the visiting Rayados to a 2-2 draw.On two occasions, Monterrey took a lead -- Ricardo Martinez (43') and Argemiro Veiga (67') - only to see the host equalize both times -- Ronald Gomez (45') and Allan Aleman (85').
Porras, who is currently part of Saprissa's technical staff, remembered:"There was a lot of motivation in playing against Mexican clubs.Every time there was a chance for the door to close on us, I kept telling my teammate, Victor Cordero, that we had to defeat Monterrey so that we could play for the first time at Estadio Olímpico Universitario (in Mexico City against Pumas).And then it happened."
In the return-leg in Monterrey (April 13, 2005), Ronald Gomez was the key player for Saprissa.He scored the tying goal with 19 minutes remaining (1-1) to send the match to extra time.Then, the forward notched the series-winner after the game went to penalty kicks (5:3), sealing Saprissa a berth in the CONCACAF finale.
"It was something big for us," added Porras, who also played 33 games with the Costa Rican national team."During the match I had a lot of work and was fully concentrated on the field, so when it was time for the penalties, I kept my focus and was able to save a shot by Monterrey's (Walter) Ervit.
"I remember that when (Ronald) Gomez scored the game-winning penalty for us, he was so excited that he ran out of the field and confused our locker room with the visitors."
The 2005 Champions' Cup Final pitted Saprissa against Pumas UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), coached by former player Hugo Sanchez.
Goals by Cristian Bolaños (21') and Gabriel Badilla (43') lifted Saprissa to a 2-0 victory in the first-leg at San José's Estadio Ricardo Saprissa (May 5, 2005).
"The key when playing against Mexicans clubs was to get a favorable result at home, which was very important for the match (in Mexico), so that we could manage them more strategically," Porras admitted."As we had fast players, we kept feeding passes to (Alvaro) Saborio or Gomez and then on the outside to Bolaños, Try (Bennett) or Pablo Brenes as it allowed us to go with a little bit less pressure in the return-leg."
Saprissa traveled to the Mexico City for the final's second leg, which was attended by nearly 40,000 spectators at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario (May 11, 2005).The strategic plan worked, as the visitors took a 33rd minute lead through a goal from Gomez.
"It was very motivating what was happening at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, as it was the final of the CONCACAF tournament and we were facing a good club in Pumas,which was under the helm of Hugo Sanchez," said Porras."The preview of the match gave us a lot of emotion and much motivation as we were prepared not to be a lesser opponent to the Mexicana team."
After falling behind, Pumas transformed Porras' net into a shooting gallery.The goalkeeper faced an offensive barrage of epic proportions.Goals from Joaquín del Olmo (66') and Leonardo Augusto (89') gave the host a 2-1 win, but Saprissa ultimately lifted the trophy 3-2 on aggregate.
"We believed and we became champions," Porras continued."In my case, I remember stopping two or three clear goals and on one of them, I saved the ball with my left hand.
"The celebration was beautiful with the few Ticos fans that made the trip to Mexico.In the end we achieved something very important and we didn't lose faith in our players and coaches, because we became CONCACAF champions."
At December's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, the Morados defeated Oceania champion Sydney FC of Australia 1-0 in the quarterfinals on a goal by Cristian Bolaños (47'). Then, after losing to the European champion Liverpool 3-0 in the semifinals, Saprissa rebounded in the third-place match.Alvaro Saborio scored two goals (13', 84' pen) and Gomez added another (88') in a 3-2 win over Asian representative Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia.
Porras, who also played at the 1989 FIFA Youth World Cup in Saudi Arabia and the 2006 FIFA World Cup, concluded:"It was incredible to have lived this experience.To finish third at a Club World Cup, not many teams from the region could say they have achieved that in those days."
Note: Mexico's CID Necaxa is the only other club from the CONCACAF region that has finished third at the FIFA Club World Cup in Brazil 2000.
2004-2005 Deportivo Saprissa Roster
GOALKEEPERS:Daniel Cambronero, Fausto González, Keilor Navas,José Francisco Porras, Kevin Stewart
DEFENDERS: Gabriel Badilla, Try Bennett, Víctor Cordero, Jervis Drummond, Juan Bautista Esquivel, José Pablo Fonseca, Ronald González, Andrés Núñez, Reynaldo Parks, Douglas Sequeira, Óscar Seravalli, Daniel Torres
MIDFIELDERS: José Francisco Alfaro, Armando Alonso, Rándall Azofeifa, Cristian Bolaños, Pablo Brenes, Wálter Centeno, José Luis López, Wilson Muñoz, Saúl Phillips
FORWARDS: Allan Alemán, Evance Benwell, Érick Corrales, Gerald Drummond, Ronald Gómez, Álvaro Saborío, Esteban Santana, Alejandro Sequeira, Alonso Solís, William Sunsing, Kénneth Vargas
TD: Hernán MEDFORD
Deportivo Saprissa's Results
Central American Zone Qualifying (Torneo Interclubes UNCAF)
20.10.2004: Real Estelí FC (NCA) - Deportivo Saprissa 0:1
28.10.2004: Deportivo Saprissa - Real Estelí FC (NCA) 4:0
Final Group - GUATEMALA
01.12.2004: Deportivo Saprissa - CD Olimpia (HON) 0:0
03.12.2004: Deportivo Saprissa - CD F.A.S. (SLV) 3:1
05.12.2004: CSD Municipal (GUA) - Deportivo Saprissa 1:0
CONCACAF Final Round (Champions' Cup)
09.03.2005: Kansas City Wizards (USA) - Deportivo Saprissa 0:0
16.03.2005: Deportivo Saprissa - Kansas City Wizards (USA) 2:1
06.04.2005: Deportivo Saprissa - CF Monterrey (MEX) 2:2
13.04.2005: CF Monterrey (MEX) - Deportivo Saprissa 1:1, 3:5 pen
04.05.2005: Deportivo Saprissa - Pumas UNAM (MEX) 2:0
11.05.2005: Pumas UNAM (MEX) - Deportivo Saprissa 2:1
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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