U-17 WWC: Costa Rica grows, looks to future
Costa Rica lines up prior to its FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup match against Venezuela at the Estadio Nacional on March 15, 2014 in San Jose, Costa Rica. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Though host Costa Rica was eliminated from contention in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, it created a lasting legacy for women’s football in the Central American nation.

The team was supported tremendously in each of its three outings, as fans came out in large numbers for the first two games at the Estadio Nacional in San Jose and the curtain closer at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Ayma in Tibas.

After a loss to eventual Group A winner Venezuela (3-0) in the tournament opener, the Ticas dropped narrow decisions to Italy (1-0) and Zambia (2-1).

Perhaps no moment, though, was more memorable than when Sofia Varela scored Costa Rica’s only goal of the competition in the third minute against the Africans.

“The play was just like in training,” said Varela.  “She gave me the same pass, same, same, same.  And the only thing that came to my mind was, ‘Score it, today is the day to score it’.  It is a dream come true.”

The forward, 15, was released into the box thanks to a splendid pass by exceptional 14-year-old midfielder Gloriana Villalobos.  She finished with veteran-like composure.

It was an emotional occasion, a relief in many ways.  All the hard work, travel and training sessions were rewarded in an instant of glory.

“The hug that I gave to the coach when Sofia scored the goal I am going to remember it the rest of my life,” said defender Fabiola Villalobos, describing the scene.

Though Costa Rica’s participation in the competition is complete, the future of women’s football has never been brighter.  Young, talented and internationally-tested players should benefit the program well into the future.

“It is time for us to separate from each other because the under-17 team is splitting up, but we are going to try to stay together in some team,” said defender Maria Paula Elizondo.  “So, that is what we are going to try to do.”

The tournament continues on Thursday with four quarterfinal matches that feature two CONCACAF sides.  Confederation champion Mexico will take on Japan, while runner-up Canada will face Venezuela.  A win for each will set-up a rematch of the 2013 CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship final.