A fear of flying prevented 42-year-old Carlos Chang from leaving his native Costa Rica. A chance to see his nation play in soccer’s World Cup in Brazil helped him overcome his phobia.
Chang is one of about 7,000 Costa Ricans who’ve traveled to watch their team become one of the biggest surprises in the tournament. Having already beaten two former champions, Italy and Uruguay, Costa Rica today completed the feat of finishing on top of Group D after drawing with already eliminated 1966 winner England.
For Chang, a microbiologist sporting Los Ticos’s red shirt and a straw hat, following his dreams and taking on his phobia hasn’t come cheap. He estimates that each member of his 200-person group of supporters will have spent $12,000 to travel to Brazil and attend three group matches.
“I said to myself: I need to remove this fear because it’s the World Cup -- I’ve had enough of it,” he said at the entrance of a Belo Horizonte hotel ahead of the game with England at the city’s Estadio Mineirao. “There was a lot of emotion, a lot of tears.”
The Central American nation, ranked 28th by soccer governing body FIFA, qualified for the World Cup’s round of 16 for the second time in its history after shocking four-time World Cup winner Italy 1-0 on June 20. Six days earlier, it opened with a 3-1 win against two-time champion Uruguay.
Surprise performances and shocking results have been a feature of this World Cup. The U.S. saw a 2-1 lead against World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal rubbed out two days ago on a last-gasp goal. Last week, Spain was eliminated after losing its first two opening-round games, the first time in the competition’s 84-year history a defending champion has exited before playing its last group game.
For Costa Rica fans, the team’s performance has been better than they expected, and it means calls home to friends and family to ask for funds so they can carry on their journey.
Back in the nation’s capital, San Jose, thousands took to the streets to celebrate the victory against Italy, flooding the main roundabout and choking streets. President Luis Guillermo Solis joined the crowd wearing the team’s jersey and standing on a bridge chanting “¡Si se pudo!” or “We did it!”
Situated between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, the country is known for its lush rain forests. It has a population of 4.8 million and a gross domestic product of about $45 billion in 2012, according to the World Bank.
A scoreless draw with England at the Mineirao stadium today guaranteed Costa Rica a round of 16 game in Recife on June 29 against the second-placed team from Group C, which features Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece.