- Costa Rica goalkeeper Erick Pineda made a string of excellent saves against Zambia
- Thanks largely to him, Los Ticos are through to the last 16 at Korea Republic 2017
- "I just did my job," Pineda said after his superb performance
Costa Rica went into Saturday's game against Zambia with their destiny out of their hands. Rock bottom in Group C, their hopes of continuing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 depended on victory against the impressive Junior Chipolopolo – not to mention a favourable result in the match between Iran and Portugal. What they needed, in other words, was a minor miracle. And, thanks largely to goalkeeper Erick Pineda, they got it.
The LD Alajuelense custodian pulled off no fewer than seven saves in a breath-taking display with the gloves. Zambia began the encounter with a fearsome reputation for their attacking flair, but the African side were left sickened by the final whistle – much to the delight of Costa Rica coach Marcelo Herrera. "Erick had a great game," he said, reflecting with pride on his team's 1-0 victory. "It's obvious that he played a huge role in this win." Goalscorer Jostin Daly was no less impressed by his team-mate's match-winning performance: "Quite simply, we had an incredible goalkeeper who played an incredible game."
That was the consensus view among everyone who watched Pineda's heroics at the Cheonan Sports Complex, with only the keeper himself offering a different perspective. "We all performed really well," he explained to FIFA.com. "There's no way you can single out any one player in that match. It takes all 11 players to win a game, and even more if you count the substitutes, staff and fans. I didn't have a better game than anyone else. I just did the job I had to do."
Casillas rather than Navas
What is certain, though, is that Pineda must have grown almost accustomed to playing a pivotal role. Costa Rica have averaged just a single goal across this tournament and the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, cranking up the pressure on their last line of defence to provide clean sheets. "Of course, but in the end we win," said Pineda. "That shows you how the whole team has been doing what's necessary. And it comes with the territory for a keeper to always be under pressure. My role is to keep out goals, and I just try to do that as best I can."
His approach is working wonders, and the youngster joins a select club of Costa Rica goalkeepers to have left their mark on a FIFA tournament – alongside Keylor Navas, one of the stars of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, and Esteban Alvarado, the first player in history to win the adidas Golden Glove at a U-20 World Cup, in 2009. "Of course I respect those players, but for me the best remains Iker Casillas," added Pineda, who was just two when his favourite player lit up this same competition. Now, 18 years on, it is his turn to shine.
Game over! #LaSeleSub20 1-0 @FAZFootball. We qualify for the next round!