When recalling the thrills and spills of the 1990 World Cup, it is usually the spirited Cameroonians who steal the spotlight as the biggest surprise package in most people’s eyes. And with good reason – Cameroon beat Argentina on the way to topping Group B and were a whisker away from reaching the semi-finals.

But, while Cameroon had previous experience from the 1982 World Cup, the Costa Ricans did not – and yet their own heroics seem to be passed over too readily. Costa Rica deservedly took their place at Italia ‘90 and were drawn in Group C, alongside Brazil, Sweden and Scotland.

Prior to the tournament, the Ticos received little media attention and their chances of surviving the group stage seemed slim. But the squad had character and quality in equal measure and relished the role of underdog, with inspirational manager Bora Milutinovic bringing out the best in an enthusiastic group. Free from the expectations that weighed down other nations, the Costa Ricans flourished on the big stage.

Admittedly, there were few household names on the teamsheet as Costa Rica walked out for their World Cup debut against Scotland – but that would gradually change as the tournament progressed. In front of almost 31,000 fans in Genoa, the Costa Ricans proved more stubborn opponents than many pundits had anticipated and their resilience was rewarded four minutes into the second half when Juan Cayasso popped up with the opening goal.

Suddenly, an upset was on the cards. Brazil remained red hot favourites to top the table, but nothing else was set in stone in Group C – and if Costa Rica could hold on against Scotland, they would be off to a flying start. Unsurprisingly, the Scots fought back, but Costa Rican goalkeeper Gabelo Conejo refused to be beaten. As the final whistle sounded and confirmed the 1-0 upset, Milutinovic knew his players had given themselves a real chance of reaching the second round.

However, Brazil loomed large in the second group game and that presented the concern that a heavy defeat might dent the Costa Ricans’ morale ahead of their final fixture. The adventure continued at the Stadio Delle Alpi, with a crowd of more than 58,000 in attendance. But those expecting a demolition were to be disappointed as Costa Rica held their own once more. The Brazilians took the lead after 31 minutes through Muller but could not pull away or land the knockout punch. Though the Costa Ricans were defeated 1-0, spirits remained high and qualification was still well within reach.

Other results in Group C had favoured Costa Rica, meaning that victory was not absolutely necessary against Sweden in the final group game. But there would be nail-biting moments ahead as the Swedes took a first-half lead. With Brazil and Scotland drawing 0-0 at half-time, the Scots were poised to break Costa Rican hearts and snatch second place.

But the Costa Ricans had come too far to let this golden opportunity slip through their fingers and they bagged a crucial equaliser with 16 minutes to go through Roger Flores, grabbing the momentum in the process. And with just three minutes to go the comeback was complete as substitute Hernan Medford’s goal snatched a stunning 2-1 win and clinched second place.

Back in Costa Rica, the party was soon underway. Tipped to just make up the numbers in Group C, Milutinovic’s men had refused to be overawed and had a place in the second round as their reward. Suddenly, pundits were paying closer attention to this feel good story.

And clearly the Costa Ricans were determined to keep their run going. Facing Czechoslovakia, who finished second behind hosts Italy in Group A, the grit and belief was again on display. Despite falling behind early on, Costa Rica rallied and levelled through Ronald Gonzalez nine minutes into the second half.

But the game’s final half hour saw a quarter-final berth slip from the underdogs’ grasp. This was simply a step too far for this inexperienced group. Czechoslovakia went back ahead and Tomas Skuhravy would go on to complete a superb hat-trick on the way to a 4-1 victory. It was a cruel scoreline for the Costa Ricans, but nothing could tarnish their debut World Cup tournament. The players had performed heroically throughout.

And so while the celebrations began in West Germany thanks to Andreas Brehme’s World Cup-winning penalty in the final against Argentina, the Costa Ricans had plenty to smile about themselves.