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Another happy day for Costa Ricans in Southland: a victory over Italy

Costa Ricans from Southland gather at Anaheim restaurant to watch 1-0 win over Italy
'It was crazy. ... It was beautiful, beautiful, without a stop,' says the owner of Costa Rica Restaurant

As time wound down against Italy, people from one of the world's happiest countries broke down in tears. Happy tears. Costa Rica had made it to the knockout round of the World Cup.

Costa Rica may be some 2,800 miles from Southern California but at the appropriately named Costa Rica Restaurant in Anaheim, you would have thought you were in the capital of San Jose as fans reacted joyfully and emotionally.

"A lot of us cried," said Victor Ortega of Playa del Rey. "It was an unbelievable feeling, especially taking into consideration that we played against Italy, who has been the champion three times."

Ortega said he had been watching World Cup games at the restaurant for nearly 20 years.

Costa Rica is quickly becoming a fan favorite because most everyone likes an underdog. The small Central American country stunned the soccer world when it beat seventh-ranked Uruguay, 3-1, in its opener and followed it up with a 1-0 win over ninth-ranked Italy on Friday. Costa Rica is ranked 28th by soccer's governing body FIFA.

The win sent the country to the round of 16 for only the second time following its appearance in 1990.

Elsa Echandi, owner of the popular local restaurant, described the scene at the packed establishment.

"It was crazy, let me tell you," she said. "It was people dancing over there, people in their jerseys . . . everybody was on chairs, flying flags. It was beautiful, beautiful, without a stop. It was about 20 minutes."

This is the fourth time the restaurant has hosted soccer fans for the World Cup. Costa Ricans from San Francisco, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Utah, Sacramento, San Diego and Santa Clarita gathered to cheer on their country's team. Some arrived as early as 5 a.m. for the 9 a.m. PDT game.

"This is very nice because we feel like we are in Costa Rica," said Marlene Solano, a longtime waitress. "We feel like we are home."

Echandi said her husband was in Costa Rica on business and stayed longer to watch the World Cup.

"He says, 'Over in Costa Rica, we are crying in the streets. It's a holiday for us,'" Echandi said. "And I'm pretty sure, Monday, they are going to declare, maybe, holiday for everybody."

Costa Rica was in arguably one of the tougher groups with three former champions — England, Italy and Uruguay.

"We had the most difficult group of them all," Ortega said. "They called it the Group of Death. They just didn't know that Costa Rica was the assassin."

The victory will only serve to increase the happiness of an already happy nation. Costa Rica frequently appears on lists of the happiest countries in the world.

"We have been rated the past two years as the happiest country in the world, so this is one of the reasons that makes us happy — our national team," Ortega said.

Some fans lingered at the restaurant long after the game, watching coverage of the celebrations back in Costa Rica.

"Mira eso," the fans kept repeating to one other.

Would you look at that.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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