0 users online

Bryan Ruiz is now a Costa Rican legend

last updated Sunday 29th June 2014, 4:03 PM

Fulham striker Bryan Ruiz
Fulham striker
Bryan Ruiz
Bryan Ruiz
Nobody has travelled further to be part of this magical World Cup than Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz.

When the Fulham player steps out at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife tonight to face Greece in the last 16, he will already have clocked up more than 104,000 in air miles - the equivalent of four times around the planet.

His dedication goes some way to explaining why a little nation from central America with fewer than five million people have been able to capture the imagination of the world game, while Cristiano Ronaldo and reigning champions Spain will be watching at home.

Having beaten Uruguay and Italy then drawn with England to become unlikely winners of Group D for Death, nobody is underestimating Costa Rica.

It is justified reward for all those long trips Ruiz made from London in the past two years to El Salvador, Panama, USA, Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras and his own capital, San Jose, simply to reach Brazil.

From being 2,500-1 outsiders, Los Ticos are favourites to beat Greece and reach the quarter-finals for the first time, surpassing the achievements of the 1990 team who eliminated Scotland before losing in the last 16.

'They were heroes but we want to go even further,' says Ruiz, whose match-winning header against Italy has gone down in national folklore.

'We had three world champions in our group, which took the pressure off us. Now we want to make history.'

Costa Rica like to regard themselves as the Switzerland of central America, calm, disciplined and peaceful compared to the rest of the continent. They have not even had an army for the past 60 years. But for football, the country is transformed into a passionate hotbed.

'We haven't got the violent history people associate with central America but when the football's on, you can tell we're Latins,' says their ambassador to the UK, Pilar Saborio.

While tens of thousands of red-clad supporters will be in Recife or lining the streets of San Jose, the 300-strong Costa Rican community in England will join up to watch the game together in a sports bar in east London.

Ruiz will be the figure they concentrate on. Seen as too lightweight to succeed at Fulham following a £10million move from FC Twente in Holland, he turns into Superman when he dons his national jersey.

'He was always proud to go off and play for his country,' says Cornelius Jol, the football operations manager at Fulham when his brother, manager Martin Jol, signed Ruiz.

'He travelled a lot. For hours and hours he was on a plane and I must say it was incredible that he was always back in time for training on Thursday afternoons and in good condition for the next game.

'That is the discipline he has as a footballer. He worked hard in training and had a smile on his face every morning. You could see why he'd be a good captain of his country. He has been one of the six or seven most influential players in this World Cup.'

Some Fulham fans will be staggered Ruiz has been able to take on and beat the best in Brazil. His seeming inability to tackle and lack of fight bred discontent among supporters despite his undoubted sublime skills.

Jol is more sympathetic. 'Fulham wasn't a top team, we had to work unbelievably hard to get the points,' he says. 'But maybe if he played for a top-six team it would be a different story.

'Fulham are in the Championship now, so I hope this World Cup gives him a chance of playing elsewhere.

He loves the English competition, but he could do well in the Bundesliga or France because he's a fantastic player.'

Source Joe Bernstein at Mail on Sunday
Since 1998
"It's been updated!"