“OOOOOLÉÉÉÉÉÉ OLÉ OLÉ OLÉÉÉÉÉÉ, TIIIIICOOOOS, TIIIICOOOS!”
That’s the chant that floods around me on this hot “winter” day in this small beach town of Puntarenas as I sit at this partially outdoor local bar in between classes to catch this riveting Costa Rica-Italy World Cup clash. Above me is a string of flags representing all 32 countries in the Brazil 2014 World Cup this summer. The people around me, though, are only interested in one thing – seeing La Sele win.
La Sele, as the Ticos, or native Costa Ricans, call their national soccer team has everything riding on them. For this small Central American country, soccer might as well be everything. The team has the nation “on its back.” The Ticos know their team isn’t the best at this Cup, but it’s only their fourth time qualifying, and they just want to get a good run out of it. Something about this year tells them something special might happen. And so La Sele becomes the crown jewel of the country. Classes end early. Jobs give the day off. Even government offices shut down for two hours to accommodate the game. It’s pretty phenomenal, I think to myself, to what lengths this country is willing to go in the name of futbol.
“¡GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLL, COSTA RICAAAA!”
Suddenly everyone around me clad in his or her red, white, and blue jersey erupts into ecstasy. Little old Sele, expected to crash out of this so-called Group of Death featuring all former World Cup champions except for themselves have gone a goal up against infamous powerhouse Italy. The grins are huge. The cheering is deafening. The atmosphere is alive. I’m a huge soccer fan myself, but even if you had no previous interest in soccer, it is hard not to be enthralled, as I look around at my friends’ excitement, by the spectacle of it all. Before you know it, you are hugging each other and high-fiving Ticos around you.
In the past, Costa Rica hasn’t done particularly well on the global stage that is the World Cup. They’ve only qualified a few times, and the best they’ve done is get to the round of 16 right after the group stage. Although this match against Italy is but the second group stage game for them, if Costa Rica wins, they make history. Having won their first game against former champions Uruguay in spectacular fashion, a win today means that they would immediately qualify for the round of 16 after only two games, a first for the Ticos’ team. And so as the game proceeds with only one goal scored by captain and now national sweetheart Bryan Ruiz, my friends and I wait anxiously with the Ticos until the end of the game, just hoping and praying that Italy doesn’t pull a last-minute stunner.
The final whistle.
The scene that unfolds is something you need to see to believe. Phones with video cameras and SnapChat readily shoot up to capture the sight of the shouting, the jumping, the singing. Neighbors run into the streets to embrace each other and rejoice together. An orchestra of cars passing by creates portable anthems as drivers honk their horns melodically in celebration. La Sele has just made history.
On my five-week academic summer program in Costa Rica, outside of classes, I’ve witnessed much beauty. I’ve ziplined through a rainforest. I’ve looked up to see sloths in the tall trees of a national park. I’ve relaxed in natural hot spring. I’ve walked on bridges hanging meters and meters high in the air above the jungle. Not one piece of that could compare to the joy that overcame my being as I stood among this party of national pride.
I can’t help but picture the soccer stadium I pass every day on my way to class. Its side has an inviting Coke ad mural. “Destapá la pasión de un gol [Uncover the passion of a goal],” it reads. That day in that bar among los Ticos, I didn’t just watch their celebration; I was a part of it. I was a part of them. I know I said I saw people embracing each other in the streets, but that was after I rushed to grab my own friends to jump for joy over the victory. When I locked eyes with a particular bright-eyed Tico by pure happenstance, I didn’t feel that awkward tinge of being a foreigner in a new place detached from that country’s culture. That day, when I looked into his eyes, his inner happiness and honor felt for his country were thrust within me as, for those few seconds, I could’ve sworn I imagined the words “Costa Rica” embossed on the front of my passport. Uncovering the passion of a goal is exactly what I did.
~ Clarissa Lotson '16
© 2014 Princeton Traveler