NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - With a population of around 5 million and no major football history, Costa Rica stunned fans at Brazil’s 2014 World Cup by felling heavyweights Uruguay and Italy to reach the quarter-finals.
The magic did not carry over from Latin America to Russia, however.
Costa Rica succumbed to Serbia 1-0 and Brazil 2-0 to be eliminated before narrowly pulling off a 2-2 draw against Switzerland in their farewell game on Wednesday. They exit the tournament bottom of Group E with just one point.
The Central Americans can take solace at having avoided any embarrassing defeats, thanks in part to Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas and a tight defence. But as one of the oldest teams in the World Cup, Costa Rica lacked bite and stamina.
In a flurry of messages on social media, disappointed Costa Rican players apologised to their passionate red-shirted fans.
“Many mixed feelings, but above all the satisfaction of having fulfilled a dream, of playing in a World Cup and defending the colours of my country. We are so sorry we could not give you more joy, but do know that we gave it our all!” tweeted defender Bryan Oviedo.
The Tico dream was further soured by criticism of the ageing team and coach Oscar Ramirez piling up back home.
“I feel hurt and disappointed at the same time... People have said very uncomfortable things,” Ramirez, a former midfielder who took over the national team reins in 2015, said earlier this week.
Ramirez said his players could not have done more against five-times world champions Brazil and tried their best to keep up pressure against Serbia before finally finding their stride against Switzerland once the pressure of qualifying was off.
“Our group was very tough. This is the fifth time we’re playing at the World Cup and this has been one of the strongest groups we have played against. We have had several opportunities and we could have had different results but that is the way football works. We have to go home. We did not want to go home,” added Ramirez.
The focus will now turn to possible shake-ups of the squad. Ramirez himself, who had previously dismissed some calls on social media for him to resign, refused to be drawn into his prospects.
“Thursday we’ll fly back to our country and we’ll see. Right now, I don’t know anything about my future.”
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Christian Radnedge