Doha, Qatar – Costa Rica fans heavily outnumbered their New Zealand counterparts at the Ahmad Bin Ai Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday evening.
While the players failed to put on their best show in the middle for those fans, an early Joel Campbell goal was what it took to take the team to their sixth World Cup.
The Central American nation beat the All Whites 1-0 in Doha, securing a spot in the World Cup’s Group E which includes Spain, Germany and Japan.
“It’s so good to know we will be back in Qatar later this year,” a jubilant 60-year-old Bernardo Rodrigues, who had flown in from the Costa Rican capital San Jose, told Al Jazeera after the final whistle.
“All night people back home, including our families, will be on the streets,” Rodrigues said while celebrating with several of his friends after the game.
This will be the third consecutive World Cup appearance for Costa Rica. Nicknamed the Ticos, the team took part in 1990, 2002, 2006, 2014 and 2018 tournaments.
For New Zealand, it was the third straight playoff loss – a defeat to Mexico in 2014 and to Peru four years later.
Grief for New Zealand
New Zealand fans were understandably dejected. The team made its last World Cup appearance in South Africa in 2010.
“The early goal really just got us chasing the whole time,” New Zealand fan James Foong told Al Jazeera. “The VAR decision [overturned goal] was unfortunate and I thought was a bit harsh.”
However, Foong said he was “very proud of the young team” while singling out striker Chris Wood’s performance for praise.
It was Wood putting the ball in the back of the net in the 39th minute that referee Mohammed Abdulla Hassan Mohamed overturned after consulting the pitch-side VAR monitor, deciding a foul had been committed in the build-up.
All Whites coach Daniel Hay did not hold back in his criticism, calling the refereeing “absolutely atrocious”.
“I think they’ve let us down by putting somebody in charge that clearly has not officiated at this sort of level,” he said in his post-match comments on Tuesday.
Ticos fan Javier Vargas told Al Jazeera that qualifying for the World Cup was “great publicity” for his country of just five million.
“When we competed in Germany , lots of people around the world I feel were talking about us,” Vargas said.
When asked what he thinks his team’s chances are in November – against the likes of Spain and Germany in their group – Vargas said he hopes for “something special” again like in 2014 in Brazil where Costa Rica reached their first-ever quarter-final.
“We had to face England, Uruguay and Italy [in the group stages], all former world champions and we still succeeded,” Vargas pointed out.
Vargas, together with other Ticos fans in attendance, showed a glimpse of the enthusiasm that will be on display when Costa Rica begins its World Cup campaign on November 23 against Spain.
Some 6,000 supporters draped in their national colours had arrived in Qatar’s capital Doha to cheer their team on. Inside the stadium, there was non-stop singing, shouting and playing the trumpet – before, during and even after the game.
Supporters chanted phrases like “Yes you can” and “We’re here until the final minute,” drowning out any noise that the New Zealand fans made to cheer on their team.