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Costa Rica better than in 2002, says Wanchope

Written by: Staff

WALLDORF, Germany, June 7 (Reuters) Costa Rica's all-time leading scorer Paulo Wanchope says the Ticos are a better side than four years ago when they narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stages at the World Cup.

Costa Rica beat China, drew with Turkey but then lost 5-2 to Brazil in their final group game, a defeat that allowed the Turks to progress on goal difference.

The Central American side face hosts Germany in the tournament opener in Munich on Friday and the 29-year-old Wanchope is confident that his side can progress from a group also including Ecuador and Poland.

''We are a better organised team,'' the striker told reporters after training today before the squad's departure for Munich.

''Defensively we are stronger and we can also play good football and score goals.

''Even if we only play with one up front that doesn't mean we cannot play well.'' Wanchope said memories of their departure from Korea four years ago have spurred the team on.

''We just realised we can do better, so from that we know we can compete and get through to the next round.'' The Ticos reached the second round in their first World Cup finals appearance in 1990 before being thrashed 4-1 by Czechoslovakia.

KNEE INJURY Wanchope declared himself 100 percent fit, with a knee injury that has plagued his career causing him no concern.

''Many players have the same problem, or even worse,'' he said.

''It is something normal in some players, that is the way it has come to me.'' Wanchope, who scored eight goals in the qualifiers and has bagged 43 international goals, has led the Costa Rica attack for nearly a decade and has already announced that the tournament would be his international swansong.

The majority of his club career has been spent in Europe. Spells with English clubs Derby County, West Ham and Manchester City brought him to prominence on this continent but his career has drifted since an unsuccessful spell with Malaga in Spain.

Now back in Costa Rica with Herediano, the club where he began his career, Wanchope is determined to shine at the World Cup and earn a move back to Europe.

''That would be nice, but first I need to concentrate on Costa Rica and then can see where I end up,'' he said. ''As a striker, everyone likes to score but the team comes first.'' REUTERS DH PM1714

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