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World Cup Preview – Costa Rica (19/32)

Costa Rica

CONCACAF (North America)

Group E

Best WC Performance: Quarter Finals – 2014

Current World Ranking: 23

History

Costa Rica have only ever appeared at four World Cup tournaments, which makes the fact they reached the Quarter Finals last time out all the more remarkable.

Italia 90 was their first tournament, and since then they’ve qualified in 2002, 2006 and 2014.

But it is 2014 that will live longest in the memory.


Drawn in a tough group with Italy, England and Uruguay, Costa Rica were given no-hoper status before the first fixture. What followed was perhaps the best underdog group stage performances in World Cup history.

A 3-1 win over Uruguay in the first game was a surprise, but the 1-0 defeat of Italy that followed was a complete shock to the footballing world.

A 0-0 draw with England in the final group match saw Costa Rica top the group, against all odds.

A win in a penalty shootout vs Greece in the next round teed up a quarter final clash with the Netherlands. A more than respectable 0-0 over 120 minutes was finally decided by a penalty shootout in the Netherlands favour.

Nevertheless, Costa Rica can proudly claim to have been one of the biggest World Cup surprises of all time.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Patrick Pemberton (Liga Deportiva Alajuelense), Leonel Moreira (C.S. Herediano)

Defenders: Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ian Smith (Santos de Guapiles F.C.), Ronald Matarrita (New York City), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Johnny Acosta (Rionegro Aguilas)


Midfielders: David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Yeltsin Tejeda (FC Lausanne-Sport), Celso Borges (Deportivo de La Coruna), Randall Azofeifa (C.S. Herediano), Rodney Wallace (New York City), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting CP), Daniel Colindres (Deportivo Saprissa), Christian Bolanos (Deportivo Saprissa)

Forwards: Johan Venegas (Deportivo Saprissa), Joel Campbell (Real Betis), Marco Urena (Los Angeles FC)

Group Fixtures

  1. Vs Serbia 13:00, 17.06.18                  Cosmos Arena, Samara
  2. Vs Brazil 13:00, 22.06.18                  Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
  3. Vs Switzerland 19:00, 27.06.18                  Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod

Manager – Oscar Ramirez

Ramirez is something of national icon in Costa Rica, having both played for and managed the two biggest teams in the country: Saprissa and Alajuelense, as well as the national side.

Having joined the national team as Paulo Wanchope’s assistant in 2015, Ramirez found himself thrust into the top job just a week later, after Wanchope was involved in a fight in Panama.

A strong World Cup showing will further cement his reputation in the country.

Qualification

Entering straight into the fourth round of qualifying for the overly complex CONCACAF confederation, Costa Rica topped a group containing Panama, Haiti and Jamaica, without losing a single game.


They then proceeded to finish second in the final round qualifying group that also included Mexico, Panama, Honduras, United States and Trinidad and Tobago.

A solid qualifying campaign that only saw them lose twice sets Costa Rica up nicely for the summer tournament, but it might well be as good as it gets.

Captain – Bryan Ruiz

Fulham fans will fondly remember the Costa Rica captain. The industrious attacking midfielder spent four years at Craven Cottage and became something of a cult hero during his time in West London.

Now at Sporting Lisbon, at 32 this may well be Ruiz’s last World Cup, so expect a typically bold showing.

Danger man – Joel Campbell

His Arsenal career has never really got going. Unbelievably on his sixth loan in six years since joining the Gunners, now at Real Betis.

But there’s undeniably talent there. Arsenal fans will remember his supreme performance against Olympiakos in the Champions League, and on a handful of other occasions for the Gunners or on loan, Campbell has looked like a world-beater.

If he brings his A-game to Russia, he could just about make the difference between Costa Rica progressing from the group stage or not.

Young Player – Ronald Mattarita

This is not a young side. In fact, there’s only one player under the age of 25 likely to feature: Ronald Mattarita plies his trade for New York City FC, Man City’s sister club, in the MLS.

In his first season in New York, he was named as the team’s defender of the season, at age 21.

If Mattarita starts, expect him to perform, and expect a swirl of rumours about a move to Europe after the tournament.

Premier League Players

There is not a single Premier League player in the Costa Rica squad unless you count Joel Campbell, who is still somehow technically an Arsenal player.

There are, however, a couple of other players you’ll recognise from Premier League times gone by.

As mentioned, there’s Bryan Ruiz, the ex-Fulham forward and then there is his namesake Bryan Oviedo, who was at Everton up until last season, and is now with Sunderland.

Otherwise, the only other really recognisable faces in the side come from outside of England. West Brom and Scottish fans will know Celtic’s Cristian Gamboa, and most football fans will be familiar with the Real Madrid No. 1, Keylor Navas.

Prediction

Strangely, Costa Rica come into this tournament with both more and less expectation than last time round.

On the one hand, they’re ranked 23rd in the world, have now qualified for consecutive World Cups and reached the quarter finals in 2014. On the other hand, this is an ageing squad, with no real star players or game changers, who have lost their element of surprise from the previous tournament.


I think they’ll probably struggle in Russia. Anything other than a win against Serbia and they give themselves almost no hope. With Brazil in the second fixture, any remaining chance of progressing will come down to getting a result against Switzerland in the final game.

Realistically, I think this will be a difficult tournament for the Central Americans, and I see them finishing bottom of the group.

Written by Jackson Rawlings. 

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