Santos, Brazil - Bryan Ruiz was the only Costa Rican player known in Europe in advance of the greatest feat in the Central American team's history, and he proved his stature on the World Cup stage.
“We were in the 'Group of Death,' and now it's others who are dead. We did something incredible for such a small country,” Ruiz said on the grass in Recife's Arena Pernambuco, after Costa Rica sealed their qualification for the round of 16.
The “Ticos” dealt Uruguay a shock 3-1 defeat in their opener, and on Friday they did it again: they beat the mighty four-time world champions 1-0 with a goal from captain Ruiz.
The striker, who is currently on loan at PSV Eindhoven from Fulham, stunned Italy just before the break, soon after the referee appeared to ignore a penalty on Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell.
Ruiz produced a great header to beat Gianluigi Buffon for the winner in a Costa Rican victory that would have seemed impossible a few months ago.
Nicknamed “The Weasel” back home, Ruiz has been one of the main pillars of the Costa Rica team coached by Colombian-born Jorge Luis Pinto, alongside keeper Keylor Navas and midfielder Celso Borges. Team-mates always heed his comments.
At 28, he is the spokesman within the squad for team psychologist Jaime Perozo, and the veteran who inspires younger players.
“We suffered a lot, but we are making history, and that is more important than scoring a goal. We have qualified, and we attained qualification in advance. It is a dream come true, and that is incredible in itself,” Ruiz said.
Although he had not made front-page headlines in Europe until now, Ruiz's patience and intelligence to wait for the right moments allowed him to build a career that was always on the rise.
Ruiz once turned down a lucrative offer from Zenit St Petersburg for some peace with Twente, where he went on to win the Dutch championship, the cup and the supercup and become a household name in Dutch football. Lately, he has scored 24 goals in just six months with PSV Eindhoven, one of the Netherlands' three football giants, and he seems ready to add to his Dutch legend with them.
Definitive global recognition came Friday in Recife, with a brilliant header past Buffon which goal-line technology confirmed as a goal.
“From the moment I headed the ball, I saw it went in, and technology helped prove the ball was in,” Ruiz said.
A striker from a country of 4.5 million people that is only playing the fourth World Cup in its history, Ruiz is ready to continue to defy odds and statistics in Brazil 2014.