Costa Rican ex-World Cup hero now training new generation of keepers

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San Jose, June 21 (IANS) Luis Gabelo Conejo’s net-minding skills led Costa Rica to the knockout stage of the 1990 World Cup and also landed him a coveted roster spot with a European club. Now 58, he is using that experience to help train the next generation of goalkeepers.

Conejo, who starred for Spanish club Albacete after his World Cup success and helped it earn promotion to La Liga (the first division) for the first time ever, has worked as a coach for Costa Rica’s soccer federation for nearly a decade, reports Efe.

In his current role, he helps train junior goalkeepers and also works with the national squad’s net minders.

He was one of the mentors of Keylor Navas and also used his contacts with Albacete to secure a place for the then-budding prospect with that second-division Spanish club.

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The rest is history: Navas went on to play for Valencia-based club Levante and then was signed by Real Madrid after memorably leading Costa Rica to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup.

Navas’ performance in Brazil recalled Conejo’s brilliant effort 24 years earlier, the parallels being impossible to ignore.

Prior to 2014, Costa Rica’s best performance in a World Cup came at the 1990 edition in Italy, where the Ticos made it to the knockout stage before losing 4-1 to Czechoslovakia, a match that Conejo missed due to injury.

Costa Rican fans will always be left wondering what would have happened if their star goalkeeper had been in action that day.

In 2016, the Costa Rican soccer federation opened a goalkeeping academy and named Conejo as its director.

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“I’m very excited about the project because I’ve always had that sense that a lot of kids with talent get away, and now we’re going to have the chance to keep track of” their progress, Conejo said when the project was announced.

–IANS

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