Everyone loves a spoiler in any tournament, and in this year's Women's World Cup, that spoiler has quickly become Costa Rica. Playing in their first ever World Cup thanks to the expanded field, Costa Rica is ruining other team's dreams along the way.
Coming in to the World Cup, many people picked them as the minnows of a group that included major power Brazil and a pair of fan favorites in Spain and South Korea. Many felt that both sides, even with their own shortfalls in World Cup experiences, had enough of a talent edge to overwhelm Costa Rica and send the North American side home with little to no success to claim.
Spain was the first opponent for Costa Rica, a side that many felt would advance easily out of this group, loaded with talent and considered one of the better women's teams in the world despite not having played in a World Cup before. True to predictions, Spain ran out to an early lead -- but Costa Rica immediately responded with an equalizer and spent the rest of the match frustrating their European opponents, dominating long stretches of play and locking down their defense when Spain had control.
Then came Korea, trying to ride some positive momentum to World Cup success in their first trip to the biggest stage since falling completely flat in 2003, when they lost all three of their matches and shipped eleven goals. Costa Rica struck first in this one, but Korea fought back relentlessly, scoring two goals in the next eight minutes and then holding on for dear life as Costa Rica fought back.
And Costa Rica did exactly that: they fought. And fought. And fought. Time and again they surged forward, riding the significant talents of Shirley Cruz, Maria Barrantes, Melissa Herrera, Cristin Granados, and Lixy Rodriguez to batter at Korea's defense. As the match wore on, South Korea looked more and more desperate -- they had plenty of fight of their own, but Costa Rica crept closer and closer to an equalizer.
Then it finally came, with substitute Karla Villalobos getting behind Korea's defense and lashing home a strike just before stoppage time began. Costa Rica came close to a winner in injury time, but even without it they had done what they came to: they ruined another team's day. They changed the narrative again. They played the spoiler once more.
Now, with Brazil already standing as the group winner after just two matches, Costa Rica might be in a position to steal yet another result against one of the giants of women's football. Even if they don't, though, Costa Rica have left an indelible mark on this World Cup. They haven't just exceeded all expectations placed on them coming into this tournament, they've completely flipped around their group and turned what many though to be a foregone conclusion in to a muddled mess that can still end in so many different ways.
And you know what? It has been so much fun to watch them do it.