Costa Rica fan wins dream trip to the World Cup in Russia
SAMARA, Russia (AP) — Martin Gomez twice hung up his phone thinking he was part of a prank or scam. The third time he took the call, and learned he'd won an all-expense paid trip to the World Cup, Gomez cried tears of joy.
The Costa Rican didn't even know he was part of the contest to send a fan to Russia to follow the national team. Gomez was picked at random by the state-owned telephone provider just for being a customer who always pays his monthly bills on time.
During the opening ceremony of his first World Cup, he proudly waved the white-and red-striped Costa Rican flag at the largest square in Europe, located in the city of Samara, nearly 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers) from the lush hills of sugarcane plantations in his native town of Turrialba.
"When I sing the national anthem and wave the flag, the tears of joy will fall again," Gomez said. "And I'm about to fulfill that dream."
The 52-year-old electrician and 35 other Ticos won the trip to the World Cup and will be among the thousands of fans at the Samara Arena on Sunday when Costa Rica faces Serbia. The winners will follow the team to St. Petersburg, where Costa Rica will play Brazil on June 22. Then the group will move to Nizhny Novgorod, where Costa Rica will close the group stage against Switzerland on June 27.
Costa Rica beat all predictions and reached the quarterfinals in Brazil 2014. Along the way, they defeated top soccer powerhouses like England, Italy and Uruguay in the group stage, and were only eliminated after a loss to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout.
The bar is high, but the Ticos, and their loyal fans, are hoping to repeat the success of the last World Cup.
"We're here to make history. We hope it can happen again," Gomez said. "But regardless of how our team performs, we need to support it."