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Keylor Navas on his unlikely adventurewith Costa Rica World

2022/11/24 20:12

Ever since I was very small, I had all my objectives very clear, Costa Rica goalkeeperKeylor Navastells. At eight years of age, I was already dreaming of playing for the national team. During the public events at my school, when they sang the national anthem, I always imagined I was standing in the packed Estadio Ricardo Saprissa about to play for Costa Rica.

Over the almost three decades since, current Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Navas has surpassed what even the most imaginative and ambitious eight-year-old kid in the rural highlands town of San Isidro de El General might have thought possible.

The Athleticis speaking to the three-timeChampions Leaguewinner as he prepares to travel to Qatar for his thirdWorld Cupfinals as the most successful footballer in Costa Ricas history.

They are moments which were incredible even when you look back at them now, it is impossible not to get emotional and feel happy, Navas says, reflecting on the ups and downs of his 107-cap (and counting) international career. They were unique moments for Costa Rican football.

All this seemed unlikely as Navas grew up in humble circumstances in San Isidro as the son of a religion teacher and semi-pro footballer two strands that have guided his life from the beginning.

Aged five, he decided he would become a goalkeeper, even though he was then small for his age and coaches at his local clubs were not convinced. Inspiration came from then-national team keeper Lester Morgan (who was to tragically take his own life soon after the 2002 World Cup). Morgan was also not the biggest but had tremendous athleticism and reflexes.

Navas dedication, conviction and shot-stopping talent eventually convinced the local Pedregoso football academy to take him on. After impressing in a tournament against Deportivo Saprissa, the countrys biggest club asked him to join them and move to the capital San Jose.

An unused sub as Saprissa won the 2004-05 CONCACAF Champions League, Navas soon established himself as first choice, and the dream fullCosta Ricadebut came in October 2008 against Suriname. The following summer he was named player of the tournament as Los Ticos reached the semi-finals of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. This was a reward for all the family. Keylor had lived with his grandparents in San Isidro, then alone at a residency in Saprissa, while his parents had moved to the U.S. to work, returning to visit and attend games when possible.

My mother and father, when they could, always went to the games, Navas says. I had their support, always. It was really nice (for my family) as the national team games in Costa Rica are huge for the whole country. For them to be watching the game, with a member of their family out there, makes them very proud.

Summer 2010 saw Navas by now aged 22 move to Spain to join Segunda Division side Albacete. Although the team were relegated to the third tier, he impressed enough to earn a move up to the Primera Division at Levante. He then spent most of his first two seasons on the bench as back-up to former Uruguay international Gustavo Munua.

Progress was more obvious at Costa Rica where Navas was among an emerging generation of players includingCelso BorgesandBryan Ruizwho could aim to make the 2014 World Cup.

After Munua left Levante in the summer of 2013, Navas inherited the starting spot and had an absolutely outstanding 2013-14La Ligacampaign, winning the award for the Primera Divisions best goalkeeper. He also starred as Costa Rica beat theUnited StatesandMexicoto secure a spot at a first World Cup since 2006.

The national team has always helped me, even though I was not always playing (at my club), he says. I have always been able to perform at a high level for them. Nobody has ever gifted me anything. I have had to show, in every game with the national team, that I deserved to be the starter.

Excitement in Costa Rica about making the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil was tempered when the draw put them in a group with three past tournament winners. But Navas and his colleagues shockedUruguay3-1 in the opening game, then beatItaly1-0, before a 0-0 draw with already-eliminatedEnglandconfirmed them as group winners.

I have many memories from the games saves, moves, teammates, the joy of being able to win those games, Navas recalls. That World Cup we had a very difficult group, but we did not stop believing in ourselves. I always think that games are there to be played, you give 100 per cent, with the mentality always that you are going to win.

The drama was far from over their last-16 game with Greece went to penalties. Navas was then the hero with a save from Greece striker Theofanis Gekas as Los Ticos progressed 5-4 in the shoot-out to reach a first-ever World Cup quarter-final.

Despite suffering from a shoulder injury, Navas was again heroic against theNetherlandsin the quarter-finals, making eight saves as his team held on for penalties. Although the Dutch progressed in the shootout, Navas was named byFIFAas goalkeeper of the tournament after saving a phenomenal 21 of 23 shots on target over his five games.