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International

Costa Rica, New Zealand to Play Off for Last World Cup Place

Government workers in Costa Rica will be given extra time off for lunch to watch their national team take on New Zealand in a playoff to decide the last team to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.

The edict from President Rodrigo Chaves allowing Costa Rican public sector workers to follow the broadcast in an extended lunch break Tuesday will come as something of a shock to the team from New Zealand, where rugby is the national sporting obsession.

When the playoff at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Doha kicks off, in New Zealand it’ll be 6 a.m. Wednesday local time.

World Cup qualifying campaigns have occasionally brought soccer to prominence in New Zealand. The so-called All Whites first qualified for the World Cup finals in 1982 through a record campaign of 13 matches which saw them zigzag from China to Saudi Arabia.

In 2010 when they qualified to play in South Africa, where they were eliminated in group play after three draws, including one with Italy, public attention again spiked. The playoff match against Bahrain brought in a record crowd, but soccer’s time in the spotlight there was short-lived.

New Zealand reached this final qualifying match after emerging as the top team in the Oceania region, though their matches against mostly small Pacific Island nations didn’t break any TV ratings records. More recently, international friendlies against Peru, which New Zealand lost 1-0, and Oman, which ended in a 0-0 draw, have done little to build enthusiasm among those uninitiated in soccer’s global appeal.

Costa Rica have been much more regular World Cup attendees, having qualified in 1990, 2002, 2006, 2014 and 2018.

The Costa Ricans finished fourth in a challenging CONCACAF qualifying campaign this time, but they go into Tuesday’s match with wins from seven of their last nine games.

President Chaves, in recognition of the importance of the playoff, moved to ensure central government workers have the chance to see most of the match. He encouraged other employers to be similarly generous.

“Tuesday, June 14 is a very special day for all of us who love our ‘Sele’ and our Costa Rica,” the President said. “More than 13,000 kilometers away there will be 11 warriors on the field to culminate a historic qualification.”

Chaves said the extension to the lunch hour is designed “so that we can send all the good vibes and excitement of a people passionate about the most beautiful sport in the world.”

Costa Rica, ranked 31st in the world, is known for the quality of its defense, and has Paris Saint Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas at the back.

“We are going to give it our all,” Navas said. “We’re looking forward to it with a lot of enthusiasm, with tranquility, with the desire to enjoy ourselves and hopefully things will work out for us and we can win that game.”

New Zealand, ranked No. 101, will field Newcastle United striker Chris Wood, who will be making his 68th international appearance. Wood said he was glad to hear Costa Rica consider him a key player.

“It’s nice to know that my career has come of something and people take notice,” Wood told New Zealand media. “But ultimately I am happy that they are worried about me because it is a sign that if they give me half a yard I will score. They need to be ready for it.”

 

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