Costa Ricans chilling in Evian
Trading the sweltering heat of San Jose for the freezing French Alps has been no easy task for two of Costa Rica's star men, Yeltsin Tejeda and David Ramirez, as The Ligue 1 Show's Chris Peilow found out. Interviews.
Costa Rica put themselves on the football map by storming to the World Cup quarter-finals last summer, and inevitably several of their players have been snapped up by European clubs. Nine thousand kilometres from home, in the foothills of the French Alps, Evian is an alien landscape for Yeltsin Tejeda and David Ramirez, both more familiar with the rainforests and sun-baked beaches of Costa Rica.
"They've settled in well - as well as the Danes have," Evian boss Pascal Dupraz told The Ligue 1 Show on BeIN Sports. "Maybe the difference is that while Daniel Wass and the other Danes wear t-shirts in winter, Yeltsin and David are in long sleeves."
Tejeda and Ramirez have plenty in common, having both started at Deportivo Saprissa in Costa Rica before making the leap to Ligue 1. A new language, a foreign cuisine… but if there's one thing they've taken time to adjust to, it's the blistering cold in Haute-Savoie.
"The cold has been one of the big differences until now, but yeah the food as well. Everything," admitted Ramirez. "I already feel settled, with Yeltsin, the family and everything. But the cold's not easy. A couple of weeks ago we went up the mountains to train in the snow. I've never ever experienced anything like that. In Costa Rica snow practically doesn't exist."
"Yeah right, it's freezing!" agreed Tejeda. "In Costa Rica we're used to 25 to 30 degrees throughout the year."
What's in a name?
Yeltsin Tejeda has had longer to adjust. The former Saprissa captain arrived last summer having made a name for himself at the World Cup - quite literally in fact, with observers curious as to why a Costa Rican carried the same name as the former president of Russia.
"Ah yes! The Russians came to ask me if I had any Russian ancestors," Tejeda laughed. "It's funny, people always get confused and want to know if I'm part Russian, but no! It's just that my mum liked Boris Yeltsin's name and so she named me after him!"
Tejeda's performances also attracted attention, as Costa Rica topped a group including England, Italy and Uruguay. The 22-year-old's moment of glory came in the last minute of the quarter-final when he blocked Robin van Persie's effort on the line.
"It's something I remember every day, people in Costa Rica are always thanking me for it!" Tejeda said. "I didn't think I'd kept it out, I thought it had hit the bar and gone in but when I saw the ball move back out away from goal, I just thought 'incredible'!"
The Dutch may have won the penalty shootout, but Los Ticos' passage to the quarter-finals was one of the stories of the competition. Tejeda became hot property and the tough-tackling midfielder seized his chance with a summer move to Evian.
"I wanted to make my name in Europe and, little by little I think I'm achieving that," explained Tejeda. "Ligue 1 is great, the football is incredible. It's very physical and a type of football that I love. There's plenty of technique, it's dynamic, there's a bit of everything. It's a very competitive league."
David Ramirez joined his former Saprissa teammate five months later on loan, the 21-year-old one of four forwards brought into the club in January - meaning he's had to fight for a starting berth.
"I know there's a lot of competition. I arrived but so did two other forwards, but that's important in order to get the best out of every player," said a circumspect Ramirez. "Now it's Mathieu Duhamel who's getting picked and he's scoring, but I'm happy for the team because we're picking up points and getting out of the danger zone and that's what's most important."
Fight for survvial
Reunited in France, the Costa Ricans now hope to play a key part in keeping 18th-placed Evian in the top flight for a fourth successive season. But with just two wins since the turn of the year, it could go down to the wire yet again for Pascal Dupraz's side.
"We don't want what happened last season when it went down to the final day," Tejeda admitted. "All the games now until the end will be like finals, we all have it clear in our heads and as a team we're going to get out of this situation."
It's been quite a year for Costa Rican football and two of its brightest young stars are reaping the rewards. They may be a long way from home, but they've taken to life in the south-east of France.
"The team has welcomed me really well and I like it, I like the town and the team and I feel really good," said Ramirez, with Tejeda also grateful for the opportunity. "It's what I always wanted to do, to consolidate myself in Europe. I like Europe and the five months I've had here. I'm happy and thanks to Evian who opened their doors to me."
And their coach made it clear that the appreciation is mutual.
"We're just as proud to have Costa Ricans, as we are the Danes, the Africans. As soon as you come into our big family we have here, it's important for players to understand who we are and what we expect from them," Dupraz summed up. "Honestly, we're really honoured to have them with us."