Competition has a place in all cultures

There is little room for competition when studying abroad. Aggression and force do not mix well with adjusting cultural sensitivities.

But this was the second go-around; pleasantries were behind us.

The first match was two weeks ago. The Ticos overcame a 7-3 deficit with 20 minutes remaining to save national pride and down the United States visitors. Costa Rica: victorious, 8-7.

The sour taste of defeat was still strong in the away team’s mouth as we suited up.

We had them right where we wanted them. They have more ball control, but we have more energy. They may see the field better, but we’re more organized.

All we need to do is hustle, play smart and want it more than they do. The winning combination to any upset.

Soccer in Costa Rica is a national obsession. No other sport matters. Neighboring countries of Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north both feature a handful of current Major League Baseball players.

Costa Rica has never produced one. Daily newspapers dedicate one-eighth of their publication to soccer coverage. The Italian, Spanish and English leagues garner at least one article each per day, along with supersaturated local league news.

On a lazy Sunday, you can catch five matches on television at one time. For a soccer-loving North American, it is easy to believe you travelled south to Heaven.

The Ticos kicked off, and match two started similarly to our first. The locals more at ease, moving the ball around precisely, as the United States worked to shake the early jitters. The crowd was decidedly pro-Tico. No other matches were scheduled on the rented out pitch and the facility’s employees intently watched the rematch.

The first 30 minutes were marked by alternating runs. A two goal burst from the gringos. A rapid fire response from the Ticos to tie. A miscommunication by Costa Rica on an entry pass resulted in a momentum swinging goal for us gringos and left the home side in disarray.

Teams operated with a rotation of five men on the field and one off. Substitutes entered on the fly and both sides relied smartly on replacements, remembering how the game slowed around the 40 minute mark last match.

With the match well underway but far from being decided, we once again found ourselves tied, 7-7, with 20 to play. Yet, this time, only one team would tire.

Currently ranked 53rd in the world FIFA rankings, the Costa Rican national team is the most successful Central American side in history.

Last appearing in the 2006 World Cup, Costa Rica also appeared in 2002 and 1990. Their greatest advancement into the tournament is into the Round of 16, the elimination stage following eight, four-team round robins.

By comparison, the United States has qualified for the World Cup nine times, finishing third in the inaugural 1930 tournament and advancing to the Round of 16 this summer.

One may marvel at the disparity in international success when soccer enjoys such little popularity up north, but such is the way international relations work when populations are 4.25 million to 310 million.

The tide broke with the tie. A lackadaisical midfield pass by a Tico was devoured by an opportunistic gringo and hammered home after an expertly executed feint past the goalie.

The silence in the arena following the lead change spoke volumes. Now was the time the Ticos took control last match. They hunkered down, got organized and passed circles around the tiring foreigners. This was not supposed to happen.

A resurgent response effort was mounted by the Ticos, but an array of hopeful shots was turned away by surprisingly acrobatic Mexican-American goalkeeper Jesus Marquez.

The increasingly desperate home side sacrificed defense in the waning minutes and paid for it with a few gringo-on-goalie breakaways. The home side scored with a minute remaining, but it was all for naught. By the time the buzzer sounded the scoreboard read 11-9.

The underdog foreigners, featuring only four players with high school experience, beat the locals on their home soil at their sport.

A few postgame handshakes were exchanged with moderate levels of sincerity.

With the series now tied, the unspoken understanding of a third game hung in the air as teams dispersed.

The victorious gringos marched to the bar with heads held high and passed the night with hearts full of patriotism and stomachs full of slightly overpriced U.S. beer.

Phil is a junior in Media.