Soccer is the most popular sport in Costa Rica, it’s almost a religion. Some say soccer became so popular in Costa Rica culture because one ball can be shared among many. Moreover, the game can be played almost everywhere. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a town in Costa Rica that doesn’t have at least one soccer field, called a “cancha” in Tico Spanish. During the lunch hour and after work you’ll see large groups of soccer players heading to the field for a friendly match, called a “mejenga”. The National Team is called “Le Sele”, which has played in four World Cups. It is run by the Costa Rican Football Federation and is a member of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and the Central American Football Union (UNCAF). There are several other professional teams that play each other within Costa Rica. The most famous are Liga Deportiva Alajuelense (La Liga) and Deportivo Saprissa, a professional soccer club.
Anytime one of the Costa Rican teams are playing, you can be sure all of the neighborhood bars will be full of people watching the football game and drinking Imperial or Pilsen with their friends. Soccer is an important Costa Rican tradition. Ticos grow up playing mejengas, supporting the domestic teams and cheering for La Sele. Soccer is not just a sport, but a part of the Tico pride and identity.
Costa Rica Culture: Popular Teams
Costa Rica’s professional league is called Primera División which was founded in 1921. The league is composed of 12 teams, with Saprissa (33 titles), Alajuelense (29 titles) and Herediano (26 titles) being the most successful. As goes with any sports team that has a dedicated fan base, the rivalry between teams can be fierce. Saprissa is direct rival to La Liga and when they play each other the whole country watches. These 12 teams compete year-round in two seasons: a summer season from February to June, and a winter season from July to December. Additionally, as part of the Costa Rica culture, we have a great national team. La Sele has qualified for several World Cups in 1990, 2002, 2006 and 2014.
National Costa Rica Soccer Team – La Sele
The National Costa Rica Soccer Team is beloved and supported by their fans and country. The team, referred to by their nickname, La Sele, coming from the Spanish word ‘selección.’ La Sele has a rich history. The first time they qualified for the World Cup was in 1989, and during the Italy World Cup in 1990 the team was able to make it into the last 16 teams. The Costa Rica soccer team entered the World Cup 2002 and made it to the 19th spot. Again in 2006, La Sele qualified and played in the World Cup but sadly finished 31 out of 32 teams. 2014 brought another year that the team qualified for the FIFA World Cup, during the qualifying round they finished second place in CONCACAF, making history for the soccer team and Costa Rica!
The Costa Rican team has a long tradition. Their first ever game took place in 1921 against El Salvador, and they won it 7-0. This match was part of the Independence Centenary Games which they have won – beating Guatemala in the final. They quickly established themselves as the strongest Central American team, although they did not qualify for a major international tournament until 1990. As you might expect then, they have an excellent record in the Copa Centroamericana having won the competition a total of eight times – twice that of second place Honduras.
In the 1990 World Cup in Italy, they finally made it through qualifying and progressed through their group to reach the second round where they lost to Czechoslovakia. They missed out on the next two competitions, but qualified for both the 2002 and 2006 tournaments. Unfortunately, they did not make it past the group stages on either occasion.
To this day, they are the only Central American team to win a match in the World Cup. Moreover, they are also the only ones to reach the second round and the quarterfinals. Their biggest win was in 1946 when they beat Puerto Rico with the astonishing score of 12-0.
The last decade or so have seen the Costa Rica national team perform to their highest ever level. FIFA currently ranks them 31st in the world and in 2015 they reached the thirteenth place, which is pretty impressive for a Central American team. The future looks bright for Costa Rica, and the investment made into football infrastructure and training is starting to pay off.
FIFA World Cup 2014
On June 14, 2014, Costa Rica landed in Group D, meaning they had to face off against football giants of Italy, Uruguay, and England. The first game was Uruguay vs. Costa Rica. This epic game had everyone jumping from his or her seats cheering for Costa Rica, the game ended with Uruguay 1 – 3 Costa Rica. Then on June 20 Costa Rica faced off against Italy, and Costa Rica made history when it won with Italy 0 – 1 Costa Rica. The next game against England on June 24 and ended with a draw, 0-0. Costa Rica set to play Greece in their next match on June 29, 2014. This historic battle game was non-stop nail-biting action that had to go into extra time and decided ultimately by penalty kicks. Costa Rica’s penalties score against Greece was 5 – 3 Greece.
World Cup 2018
The next World Cup will take place in Russia in summer 2018. Costa Rica will play against Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia in Group E. It remains unseen what they will achieve in the future, although it seems possible that the Ticos will reach the second round again.