Costa Rica's euphoria comforts Cunningham

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 26/06/2014
Costa Ricans Carlos Hernandez, front, and Kenny Cunningham
KEVIN STENT
TWO OF THE BEST: Costa Ricans Carlos Hernandez, front, and Kenny Cunningham were on fire for the Phoenix last season.

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Kenny Cunningham harbours no bitterness towards the giant-killing Costa Rica World Cup team.

Naturally, the Phoenix forward would love to be in Brazil, instead of a chilly Newtown Park, but a family holiday in Mexico helped him shrug off the disappointment of non-selection.

The 29-year-old has played 13 games for "Los Ticos," most recently against South Korea in January, but was not required in Jorge Luis Pinto's World Cup squad and instead has watched the shock group D winners on television.

Costa Rica will play Greece in an unlikely round of 16 game on Monday after stunning previous World Cup winners Uruguay (3-1) and Italy (1-0) before a 0-0 draw with another former champion, England, yesterday.

"These things happen in your life," Cunningham said of his non-selection.

"I am happy that my country is doing well in the World Cup. They're organised, playing good football, keeping the possession well and off the ball they are very good at stopping the other team's top players. To win the group, that's a beautiful feeling. Mentally we always go onto the field and try to fight. It doesn't surprise me because Costa Rica has a lot of pride."

Costa Rica easily qualified for Brazil by finishing second in Concacaf behind the United States.

But, with no recognised world class players - PSV Eindhoven's Bryan Ruiz and Arsenal's Joel Campbell are perhaps the most well known - the nation of 4.5 million were supposed to prop up a powerful group D.

At No 28, Costa Rica were the only team of the four not ranked in the world's top 10.

"Nobody expected Costa Rica to beat Italy and Uruguay and today tie with England," Cunningham said.

"But this is football, a surprise for the world. I think the next teams will respect Costa Rica."

Cunningham said he had been communicating with many of the World Cup squad, in particular defender Junior Diaz, who provided the assist for Ruiz's match-winning goal against Italy.

"I speak on Facebook with some of them and I said to them 'you are doing well at the World Cup. You have to keep it up and keep working hard.' We are seeing the results."

Monday will be Costa Rica's first appearance in the second round since 1990.

"If they keep working hard, get their line organised, they will win the game," Cunningham said.

"The coach has the team organised and getting the ball very quick to the wingers. Talking to my brother, he says the country is very excited right now. In Costa Rica life is football, everybody loves their football."

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Used mostly as a midfielder by Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick last season, Cunningham will revert to his more natural position as a wide striker in 2014-15.

"This is better for me," he said.

"It should help the club. Last season I scored seven goals but I can give more. The communication is good."

Cunningham's compatriot Carlos Hernandez, released by the Phoenix last month, has signed with Costa Rican club Cartagines.

- The Dominion Post

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