Monday 30 April 2018, 08:53

Oviedo’s World Cup dream driven by family spirit

  • Bryan Oviedo broke his leg months before Brazil 2014

  • He recovered and helped Los Ticos reach Russia 2018

  • “Those sad memories made me stronger for the future”

Every family has a favourite FIFA World Cup™ memory. Bryan Oviedo remembers rising at an unearthly hour so he could sit together with his father and watch Costa Rica play on the other side of the world during Korea/Japan 2002. Those precious moments in the Oviedo household are cherished to this day.

“I remember it very clearly,” Oviedo told in an exclusive interview. “Before I went to school, my father would wake me up and I’d watch the games. It was really nice. Costa Rica did well, even if they didn’t get out of the group.

“The game against Brazil stands out for me. We lost 5-2 but everyone was still happy because we played so well. Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos, it was a fantastic Brazil team.”

Fast-forward 12 years and the mood in the Oviedo household was distinctly different. Bryan had helped his country reach Brazil 2014, but Los Ticos went to the tournament without him. The then Everton man suffered a broken leg six months before the tournament and in May 2014, Oviedo admitted defeat. He would not recover in time to head to the World Cup.

“It was a really bad moment,” Oviedo reflected. “I remember my mother crying at times. I think it’s more sad for my family than for me. I know football continues and carries on but sometimes your family think differently.

“I think you need to move forward, look at yourself, keep doing everything well. That’s the only constant - football never stops. You need to continue. Despite that, it was so sad not to be at that World Cup. It doesn’t matter if I had played, or not, but simply to be a part of that team, which will be remembered in Costa Rican history.”

That team reached the quarter-finals for the first time in the nation’s history, defying the odds to finish top of a group that included three former World Cup champions. But could Oviedo bring himself to watch the matches?

“I was commentating for a couple of games, which was fun - a new experience for me. But the other games I was with my family. I supported my country and the team while I was in Costa Rica together with them.”

That strong family bond galvanised Oviedo’s path to recovery, and ultimately saw him tread a familiar path which had a different destination: the road to Russia. The Sunderland man played a key role in World Cup qualifying, and was on the pitch against Honduras when Costa Rica secured their Russia 2018 spot.

“I remember being on the floor and saying thanks to God for that opportunity,” Oviedo smiled. “After the game my wife and son came on to the pitch together and enjoyed being a part of that. I think that’s one of my happiest moments. Those sad memories of Brazil 2014 made me stronger for the future.”

That future is appearing on the horizon, with the Russia 2018 draw pitting Oviedo and Los Ticos against old foes Brazil, as well as strong European sides Switzerland and Serbia.

“We know that every group in the World Cup is tough because there are only the best teams in the world there,” Oviedo said. “We know that whoever we play we need to be ready for that. In 2014, we played against England, Italy and Uruguay – we were the smaller country – and we qualified top of the group.”

To face the five-time World Cup champions A Seleção in the group games brings those schoolboy memories of watching Korea/Japan 2002 flooding back for Oviedo. However, the tricky left-sided player thinks nostalgia cannot play a part in his side’s mindset for Russia.

“Everything is new right now,” Oviedo said. “That was in the past. At that moment [in 2002] maybe Brazil were too strong. Right now, they are also strong but football is changing. We have more players with more experience. Whatever happens, we’ll play a good game, because whenever we play against Brazil – and top teams – normally we play really well.”

That determination and spirit has seen Oviedo return stronger from his 2014 nadir, but he has been helped no end by the support of his family. When the Los Ticos' No8 steps out onto the Samara pitch against Serbia in June, he will represent not just Costa Rica, but the Oviedo clan – creating happier World Cup memories in the process. His mother may once more shed a tear, but this time it will be not of sorrow, but of joy.