In first World Cup, Vancouver's Waston aims to meet high Ticos expectations

VANCOUVER -- The Costa Rica national team set the bar high for future World Cup finals performances after their outstanding run to the quarterfinals in Brazil in 2014.

The Ticos shocked and enthralled the world with an exciting run that saw them defeat Uruguay and Italy, then draw with England to top their group. 

A nervy penalty shootout win over Greece in the Round of 16 set up a tantalizing quarterfinal showdown with the Netherlands in São Salvador, and although that match ultimately ended in penalty kick heartbreak, Costa Rica had put themselves on the world footballing map and won themselves a host of new admirers along the way.

"It was a surprise [how well we did]," Vancouver Whitecaps captain Kendall Waston told reporters at training last week. "Everybody in Costa Rica had faith but they didn't expect them to go so far."

A tough act to follow, but that's just what Waston and his Costa Rican teammates now face in Russia next month.

To those not overly familiar with Concacaf, Costa Rica were something of a surprise package four years ago. Placed in Group E for this year's tournament, alongside Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia, the days of being a dark horse are now long gone. 

With that surprise factor missing, can they repeat those heroics this time around?

Waston believes they can. The goal this time around is to at least emulate what Costa Rica achieved four years ago.

"That is what we want," Waston said. "We have that standard that they left in Brazil, so from there, we want to go and do it again ... to try and get to the same stage that they got to in Brazil. Then after that go to the next stage. It's hard, but not impossible."

Expectations have clearly been raised, and Waston wants to make sure he and his fellow Ticos do their country proud again. He knows the excitement level back home will have reached fever pitch by the time of their tournament opener against Serbia in Samara on June 17.

That game and the one against Switzerland to complete the group stage are likely the two matches that will decide Costa Rica's hopes of advancing. Anything they can get from the middle match against Brazil would just be a bonus.

"The first one is massive," Waston admits. "Then after that, Brazil is a huge game. ... Everybody knows Brazil's potential."

Waston was named to Costa Rica's 23-man squad for the finals earlier this month. After just missing out on the squad for Brazil four years ago, his own personal hopes and expectations are simple - he just wants to do his best and savour every minute of the experience.

"To be honest, I just want to play in the World Cup," Waston said. "Hopefully score and have a brilliant World Cup. I want to enjoy this scenario because you don't know if in four years I'll have it again.

"Hard works pays off. Sooner of later, it pays off. Sometimes in life you have one or two opportunities. But sometimes in life you have unique opportunities that never come back again, so I just got to grab this opportunity."