Costa Rica

Weekend Guide 5.2.15

One weekend, three games, Worldwide. All the information.

It will be obvious that this week I will write about the Africa Cup of Naions' final in Sunday, but as you already saw – nothing is obvious. After all, this is BabaGol weekend recap!

This week we will fly in Latin America to see the origins of the last World Cup sensation, we’ll hop to Asia to visit one of its emerging football nations, and finally we will arrive in Africa, to a country who tries to return to the front of the stage of African football.

(All the hours are in CET local time)

Sunday, 0300, Herediano – Alajuelense (Costa Rican Primera División)
During the last World Cup we were all witnesses a big surprise, the Costa Rican national team. The fascinating fact is that nine players of the squad were Costa Rican domestic league’s products, which is not so common in most Latin American successful national teams. The football in Costa Rica has made huge progress in recent years. On Sunday, two of Costa Rica’s greatest clubs, Herediano and Alajuelense, will meet for an important league fixture, and we have the option to see the progress for ourselves.

In the last Campeonato de Invierno (the winter championship), Herediano finished as the runner-up, after a tragic defeat against Saprissa. Their aspirations are to win the title, but they are now placed in the 4th position with 8 points out of 4 games.

The head coach is Mauricio Wright, who capped 67 times in the national team. Several players in the squad were also part of their national team squad in Brazil like Óscar Granados, Dave Myrie and Daniel Cambronero. Gabriel Gómez, the Panamanian who played for years in Europe and the United States is also there, Leonel Moreira, who plays for Herediano since 2009, and Cristian Montero, who know both of the teams very well, as he plays in Herediano since 2009, but was a part of Alajuelense squad for eight seasons.

Alajuelense finished the Campeonato de Invierno with a disappointing result. Even though they finished in the top place of the regular season, they have been eliminated in the semifinals, against the same Saprissa. This season they want to make that ‘jump’ and to qualify to the playoffs’ final.

Until now, they seem on the right way as they gained 10 points and dominating the 1st place. In order to win their 30ieth title, Alajuelense is led by experienced coach, Óscar Ramírez, who won 8 domestic titles as a player (4 of them with Alajuelense) and 5 domestic titles as a coach (all with Alajuelense).

Players which considered as key players are Patrick Pemberton, the team’s captain, Jonathan McDonald, who returned to Costa Rica after a one season in Kalmar from the Swedish league, and Ramon Nuñez, the Honduran international who played also in United States and England.

We all saw the passion of the Costa Rican players in the World Cup, and now is the time to see its origins, in a local big match.

Sunday, 1030, Long An – Binh Duong (Vietnamese V-League)
The Asian Cup concluded last week, but we didn’t finish our journey in the Asian football. Vietnam is not considered to be one of the strongest sides in the continent, but it develops rapidly in the last years. Its improvement is rooted in the decision of the AFC that the Vietnamese champions will automatically qualify to the AFC Champions League group stage. 

This weekend, reigning champions Binh Duong will travel to Long An, for the main event in the East Asian football. Long an is a new club with mediocre tradition. The team established in 2000 as merge an old team, named also Long An, with another team, Dong Tam.

The unification was successful, as the team became one of the richest in Vietnam, and won the title twice. In the last few years they failed to repeat their achievement and even spend one year in the second division. This year they returned to their place in the top of the table, as they ranked in the 4th place with 10 points and they still didn’t lose in their first six matches. The main players are the two international Vietnamese players, Phan Van Tai Em (50 caps) and Huynh Quang Thanh (45 caps), alongside with Pham Hoang Lam, current U-23 national team squad member, and Souleymane Diabate, a Malian who play in Vietnam in the last three years.

Binh Dong is a veteran club, but for years they haven’t been a part of the elite teams of the local football. The big change came in 2002, when the local company Becamex took over the team. The team became the richest club in the country, now known for their nickname "Chelsea of Vietnam". The team had a great opening for the season, with 5 wins out of 6 games, they are aspiring league leaders and a potential back to back champions.

In order to fulfill this dream, Binh Duong have several players which lead them: the Senegalese Abass Cheikh Dieng, who is the current top scorer of the league, Ganiyu Oseni, who won the U-17 world title with Nigeria, and the local Le Tan Tai, who made 63 appearances for Vietnam national football team.

When western people think about Vietnam, they imagine an American war movie or battles in the jungles. The real picture shows tons of passion for football, and a different battle – a battle for the title.

Sunday, 1830, Zamalek – ENPPI (Egyptian Premier League)
This week, Egypt mourned over the event that killed the Egyptian football. Three years ago, after the match between Al Ahly and Al Ismaily in Port Said, huge riots began, 74 people got killed and many were injured. The responsible ones were sentenced for a death penalty and the season was abandoned, a decision that harmed the league badly. After two years, last season a full season completed in Egypt. The leaders and organizers of the Egyptian league will face each other in the match between Zamalek and ENPPI.

Zamalek is one of the biggest clubs in Egypt. 11 domestic championships, 23 domestic cups and five CAF Champions League titles, but their last league title was a long time ago in 2004. This season they lead the table with 44 points. Even though the team is succeeding, three coaches were replaced. Mido left in July to be part of Zamalek youth system, Hussam Hassan left in November for the national team, and Spaniard Jaime Pacheco just left because he didn't settled in Egypt.

The important players are Moamen Zakaria, who was in loan in the last year from ENPPI but completed his transfer to Zamalek in the beginning of the season, Ibrahim Salah, who came back to Zamalek after one season in Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Eid, who played 51 matches in the Egyptian national team, and Abdoulaye Cissé, who played for French side Montpelliere for five seasons.

ENPPI is a much smaller team. They first promoted to the first division in 2003 and except from two national cups they have no other honors. Their name is the name of the main sponsors of the team, big industrial engineering company, specializing in gas and petroleum. This year they are one of the league’ surprises, as they are in the second place, only three points behind Zamalek. The major players of the team are the goalkeeper Abdel Monsef,  11 seasons in the club, the defender Salah Soliman, who was part of the 2013 winning squad of the U-23 African Championships, and Amr El Halwani, the current team top scorer who also played four years in Greece.

The Egyptian football tries to recover from ‘Port Said Events’ and go back to the top levels of African football, and this match is a big symbolic part of the process.