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Former Costa Rica star Bryan Ruiz looks back on his winning goal against Italy at Brazil 2014 and the team's magical quarter-final run.

Ruiz: Costa Rica played a perfect game against Italy

Ruiz: Costa Rica played a perfect game against Italy

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There were so many great stories that came out of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil – and without question ranking near top of the list was Costa Rica’s incredible run to the final eight of the tournament.

Drawn in a group with former champions England, Italy and Uruguay, the Ticos defied the odds and topped the section thanks in part to Bryan Ruiz’s winning goal against Italy.

Recently retired after participating in his third World Cup at Qatar 2022, Ruiz spoke with FIFA about the Central American’s unforgettable run and their secrets to success in reaching a historic quarter-final.

FIFA.com: What comes to mind when you think back to Brazil 2014?

Bryan Ruiz: For so many of us, it was our first World Cup, so there were a lot of nerves in starting that tournament. We were all used to playing different kinds of matches, but a World Cup is obviously very different, and any national team player dreams about playing in it.

What was your reaction to the draw?

I was in England at the time and my wife said, ‘No, it can’t be! It’s such a tough group.’ But I told her, ‘We’re going to the World Cup. We want to play against the best.’ I think it was the first time that had happened, with three former champions in the same group. We preferred to play against the best because that’s what you want when you’re at the World Cup.

Was there a specific moment when you knew this team could be special?

I think it happened in qualifying against El Salvador when we had to win away to stay alive. I would also say in the second game against USA – in the final round of qualifying – because of what had happened to us in the first game there in which we had to play in a blizzard. There’s just something that happens that when people think we’re dead, the Costa Rican, the Tico, finds something extra.

What made Jorge Luis Pinto such an effective coach?

The tactical aspects that Pinto instilled in us were very good. Also, he had the advantage that the majority of us were playing in Europe, we were all playing and in good form, so all that came together for us to make history. We were able to understand his tactical ideas and apply them well on the pitch.

Would you agree that Costa Rica’s victory against Uruguay took root in the inter-confederation play-off you narrowly lost against them in 2009?

Yes, we were very motivated to open against Uruguay because they kept us out of South Africa 2010 in what was a very even play-off. Four years later we play Uruguay in our opening group match and we knew the great players that they had. We were nervous in the first few minutes, but we settled in. We went to the dressing room at half-time down 1-0 but knew we were playing well and just had to keep going. We scored two quick goals and were able to manage the rest of the game.

When you think about the second game against Italy, what feelings does it bring you today?

Pinto had spent 20 years studying Italian football and that showed in the strategy he had for us. I’d say it’s Costa Rica’s perfect World Cup match, because it was Italy with all their great players and they weren’t able to hurt us in a game they needed to win. I think we caught them offside something like nine or ten times because our line was so high. Their top players were well marked, so for us, it was a perfect game.

What did you feel in the moment that you scored against Italy?

I always said to my family and team-mates that you have to “burn the net” in a World Cup, that the ball has to be hit with force, but that one wasn’t! (laughs) It barely went over the line! I knew for sure that the ball had crossed the line because after I headed it, I was right on the line and saw it go over. I was also calm knowing that in the tournament they had goal-line technology. There are eight passes before the ball gets to me, which once again shows the great teamwork that we had in that World Cup.

Do you watch that goal a lot still?

Less than before. In the first year a lot, but not as much now. Each time that I watch it and listen to how the broadcasters called it with so much emotion, the celebration with all my team-mates, it all gives me goosebumps.

What do you remember about your goal against Greece in the round of 16?

Usually when I shoot across goal I like to hit it hard, but on that occasion it didn’t quite go like that because the pitch was wet. I couldn’t get it in the air, so the ball stayed on the ground, but it still went into the side of the net almost perfectly.

Keylor Navas was such a massive part of your run. What stood out the most about his performance?

In that World Cup the world learned about his ability. There is no doubt that without Keylor we would not have gotten as far as we did. In the Greece game he had some amazing saves after we went down a man. He then made a save in the final minutes that got us to extra time. I think in extra time he had another three or four stops that allowed us to get to penalties and then he made a save in the shootout that qualified us for the quarter-finals.

Costa Rica finished as one of the top eight teams in the world. What significance did that have?

I think at the time we didn’t fully realise what we were accomplishing, but as the years go by you begin to understand what was achieved in that World Cup. We got to a quarter-final against the Netherlands and they couldn’t beat us. I think that’s important. We played five games in that World Cup and didn’t lose any of them. We won two and drew three, and even had a chance to win the Netherlands game in the 106th minute on a clear scoring chance. Sadly, we lost in penalties, but it was still an incredible World Cup.

Now that you are back living in Costa Rica, do people talk to you a lot about that World Cup?

All the time. Just the other day I took a taxi and the driver told me, ‘Bryan, you made me cry with your goal against Italy.’ Here in Costa Rica the people experienced it with a lot of passion and it will be difficult to forget that. It is a gift that lasts a lifetime. It brings me such great satisfaction, especially knowing all the sacrifices that are made in a footballer’s career, so when you have those things happen, it makes it all worth it.


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