Wednesday 10 November 2021, 06:00

Borges: We’re on the up

  • Celso Borges scored Costa Rica’s winner against El Salvador in October

  • Costa Rica lie fifth in the table in the final round of the CONCACAF qualifiers for Qatar 2022

  • “The World Cup is the biggest and most spectacular tournament there is”

It was a case of now or never. Costa Rica went into Matchday 5 of the final round of the CONCACAF qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ without a win to their name. Taking on El Salvador at home, they fell behind early on, only for captain Bryan Ruiz to pull them level early in the second half. Minutes later, Los Ticos were awarded a priceless penalty, which Celso Borges stepped up to take. “When we’re training, we just see how we feel,” said Borges in an exclusive interview with “Taking a penalty is all about your emotions. Bryan Ruiz had a few words with me just before and he gave me a lot of confidence. If I hadn’t had that little chat with him, I wouldn’t have taken it. He’s a good captain, though, and he showed his support.”

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica: Celso Borges scores the second goal for Costa Rica during the 2-1 Costa Rica victory over El Salv

The fact is, Borges is well used to the pressure that comes with taking spot-kicks. At Brazil 2014, the midfielder scored the opening penalties in the shootouts that gave Costa Rica victory over Greece in the last 16 and in their defeat to Netherlands in the quarter-finals.

“I’ve never seen myself as a specialist, anything but,” he added. “There are always nerves when you’re taking a penalty, whatever the circumstances, always. But you just fall back on what you’ve practised and worked on. You try to make it automatic and concentrate on making a clean connection.”

Three valuable points

“The team’s been playing well and we’ve been pretty solid,” he explained. “We’ve been dropping points because of some very specific things. We’re on the up, though, and I hope that by the end of this round of games and the start of the next that we’re in a better position in the table.”

Los Ticos still have plenty of margin for error. Thanks to the new, expanded eight-team format, there are now 14 matchdays in the final phase, with eight still remaining. That gives Costa Rica lots of time to continue absorbing the philosophy of their newly appointed coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, who has been in the job for six months now.

“We’ve been working with him for a while,” said Borges. “Things are going really well and we’ve adapted to his way of doing things. He has a close relationship with the players and he’s very positive. That rubs off on the players and the coaching staff. It’s a great atmosphere to be in.”

The experienced Borges is one of the leaders of the Costa Rica pack. If they are to make it to Qatar 2022, they will need him to keep performing that role and help the younger members of the squad, especially with key games against Canada and Honduras coming up.

“We always speak about the importance of making sure everyone’s in good shape,” he said. “With a national team, you never know who’s going to be needed, and we all have to be ready. There have always been times when the players you least think about have an important role to play, so it’s all a question of just keeping that in mind. The boys have shown that they really want to learn and work hard so we can come together and qualify for the World Cup.”

So how are they facing up to the next round of matches, which could see them finishing the year in a strong position?

“Ideally, we’re looking to get as many points as we can,” came the answer. “We’ve got two very tough games coming up. Canada is a place where the weather can be a factor. We’ve got to be ready for everything, though. It’s a bit like stepping out of your comfort zone. Then we’re at home to Honduras, who are a very good side. Both teams know what an important game that is.”

The qualification race is tight, with only three points separating Panama in fourth and El Salvador in seventh, and only another three points between Los Canaleros and second-placed USA. The next round of matches could see lots of changes in the table.

“Every team is improving on a technical, individual and collective level all the time,” explained Borges. “It’s never been easy but players are getting a lot of international experience now and that’s a big plus. They’re playing in the best leagues now and it’s made the region more competitive.”

Borges is determined to continue helping his team pull through when the pressure is on, not least because he has some important personal goals still to achieve.

“The chance to play in the World Cup for a third time is what gets me up in the morning,” he said. “There’s a few of us in that position. We’re all excited about it, whether we’re going for our third World Cup or our second or first. The World Cup is the biggest and most spectacular tournament there is. Playing for your country in one makes you proud. We all want it.”