Lady Leaders Beat the Slow Growers: Costa Rica is the Most Alive in Group of Death

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According to the CIA’s website, “initial attempts at colonizing Costa Rica proved unsuccessful due to a combination of factors, including disease from mosquito-infested swamps, brutal heat, resistance by natives, and pirate raids.”

Could this somehow apply to Costa Rica’s two stunning upset wins so far in Brazil’s 2014 World Cup?

Probably not.

It’s easy, however, to try to make nationalist metaphors out of international sports: to pit Latin American teams against the colonizing Europeans, USA against Russia in the cold war (or perhaps Ukraine Crisis) era, or Argentina against England after the Falkland War, and read the results like they’re either vindication for losses or the superheroization of real life-or-death battles. Simon Kuper, writing in Harper’s Magazine, describes the Dutch celebration in the streets after their team beat West Germany in the 1988 UEFA Cup as “the largest public gathering since the end of the Nazi occupation.” Nationalism, however, as Kuper goes on to argue, is on the decline. Thus, in 2014, barring an Iranian-US match, or maybe Germany-Greece, there don’t seem to be the same sorts of existential military clashes to give spine to the nationalist fervor on display in Brazil. Which means that sometimes, GDP differentials, the history of warfare, shifting borderlands or nationalist bullying or cliquing are all cast aside on the pitch, and what matters is who kicks the ball in the net more than the other guys. That seemed to be the case today when Costa Rica outmuscled the 2006 World Cup champs Italy.

The underdog Tico team drew what many assumed was going to be the hardest Group in this year’s World Cup, overshadowed by heavyweights England, Italy and perhaps the dark horse favorite and reigning Copa America Winner, Uruguay. But last Saturday Costa Rica came from behind and blew away Uruguay 3-1. And then they further proved their mettle today with a 1-0 clincher over Italy. With England already going home after Group play (after two losses), the tiny Central American country’s team will advance, even if they drag their seemingly winged heels and lose to a bruised England, to the Round of 16 for only the second time in history.

But how far will they go?

According to Wall Street Journal’s “World Cup of Everything Else,” if teams were competing in which country had the Most Women in Government, Costa Rica would be world champions. Maybe the CIA should add that to their website. Costa Rica would also be the world champs (out of the 32 qualifying teams) for Country with Most Rainfall. The only thing Italy would win in would be Slowest Population Growth. And vanquished England, Costa Rica’s next opponent, wins in nothing but Lowest Traffic Death Rate.

So be prepared next Tuesday for the nail-biting, all-on-the-line contest between the country with Most Women in Parliament vs. the country with the Safest Streets. There can only be one victor.