Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez had some big decisions to make and not much time to make them in. Though his side had just beaten Haiti to collect their first three points in the futseller fifa 16 CONCACAF qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, victory came at a cost, with first-choice midfielders Celso Borges and Johan Venegas both picking up serious injuries.
With Los Ticos due to play an ever-challenging Panama four days later, Ramirez took one look at his squad list and made an instant decision, pulling Randall Azofeifa and Esteban Granados to one side and entrusting them with the job of patrolling the midfield. As it turned out, the coach made the right choice, the Herediano duo playing their part in a win that maintained Costa Rica’s momentum and their perfect start to the qualifiers.FIFA spoke exclusively to them.
Ramirez’s solution was a logical one. For the last eight months, Azofeifa and Granados have been the mainstays of a Herediano side that is riding high in the Costa Rican championship.
“We haven’t been playing together for that long, but we developed an understanding pretty quickly and we’ve even become friends off the pitch,” said the 30-year-old Azofeifa, who has eight years’ experience in the Belgian and Turkish leagues under his belt. “It just so happened that we had to share a room for the trip [to Panama]. We understand each other off the pitch and that helps.”
Explaining what they bring tactically, Granados, who is also 30 but has never left Costa Rica in his 12-year career, said: “As holding midfielders our job was to provide balance whenever Panama went on the attack. We both provided that equilibrium in midfield. Azofeifa holds back a little when we’re on the attack and I push forward a bit more. He has a lot of experience and he’s a leader in the midfield.”
During the Panama match, Azofeifa watched Granados’ back whenever he moved forward, for reasons he explained in analytical fashion, a characteristic of his according to his team-mate: “We both went up on one occasion with Herediano, only for us to lose the ball and the opposition to score. We promised there and then that we’d never make the same mistake again.”
Thankfully for Los Ticos, the pair showed the same level of understanding they have struck up with Herediano. “The fact is that we never imagined we might be playing together for the national team, but that’s what you work for and then to stay there,” explained Azofeifa. “It never crossed my mind, but thanks to God we’ve been able to play for the national team at the same time,” added Granados.