Saturday 20 May 2017, 04:08

Smith: A World Cup changes your life

  • Costa Rica’s Ian Smith reflects on FIFA U-17 World Cup experience

  • Full-back talks of his love for Germany’s Bundesliga

  • Reveals Los Ticos’s pre-match ritual

“5-4 wasn’t it? In the final minutes. Incredible.”

One of the joys of being a 21st century football fan is the fact that, no matter where you are, you can keep track of the game in every corner of the globe. Despite being camped out in Korea Republic for the last two weeks, Costa Rica’s Ian Smith was not going to miss out on the news of Bayern Munich’s sensational comeback against RB Leipzig.

The Arjen Robben and David Alaba-inspired comeback, with Bayern having trailed 4-2 on 83 minutes, is a perfect example of why the Central American full-back has a particular soft spot for the German game. “I really like the Bundesliga; it’s very fast football,” he told in Jeju, ahead of kicking off their FIFA U-20 World Cup on Sunday. “I’m a fast player, so I enjoy it and I think it suits my style.

“I am keen on Bayern Munich,” who also double up as his virtual choice when playing FIFA, “but of course you have some other great teams like Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. It would be a really good league to play in.”

The distinctly un-Costa Rican-sounding Smith, (“I like my name, it’s different in our culture” he said with a smile) of Santos de Guapiles, has good reason to entertain European dreams on the eve of a World Cup. Two years ago, a trip to the FIFA U-17 World Cup brought about just that.

“After the World Cup in Chile I went to Sweden and I played there,” he explained. “A World Cup changes the life of a player. The exposure these tournaments provide is incredible.”

The right-back, a big fan of both Bayern favourite Philipp Lahm and Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin, spent six months out in Sweden off the back of an impressive performance in South America.

“It was a great tournament for us. We made it out of the groups and beat France, before losing 1-0 to Belgium,” he recalled. “But Costa Rica is a small country and when you have a tournament like that the whole country comes together and it’s a party.”

He has hopes of replicating at least that in Korea Republic and will be keeping some of the winning ingredients from 2015, where singing one particular song becoming part of the side’s pre-match ritual. “The song says ‘Yo soy Tico’, I am a Tico – which is the name of the Costa Rican people,” the 19-year-old explained. “It is about that feeling inside that makes you stronger. You feel proud and it keeps us relaxed, but focused.”

And with a challenging Group C ahead, they will need to be. “Iran are big players and they look strong,” he said of their opening opponents, “whereas our style is more quick touches and play. Portugal will come with their European style, of course, and are a decent team, whereas Zambia are fast with good players – what you expect from an African side.”

Should things get sticky, though, Smith can just think back to Bayern on Saturday. “It showed you can never give up and just have to keep fighting and fighting.”