2018 FIFA World Cup Team Preview: Analysing Costa Rica’s Chances at the Tournament

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Costa Rica head to this summer’s World Cup in Russia following an inspired performance which both surprised and impressed many during the previous tournament in Brazil in 2014.

Shock victories over Uruguay and Italy, followed by a 0-0 draw with England, saw Costa Rica come up trumps in the most unlikely of circumstances as Jorge Luis Pinto’s side finished top of Group D, establishing the Ticos as the revelation of the tournament from the outset.

Eventually knocked out at the quarter-final stage by the Netherlands on penalties in Brazil, Costa Rica will be hoping to achieve similarly remarkable progress at this summer’s tournament in Russia, following on from what was regarded as the greatest footballing year in the nation’s history nearly four years ago.


How They Qualified

As the highest ranked side in the CONCACAF system, Costa Rica entered the qualifying phase at the fourth round, placed into a group with Panama, Haiti and Jamaica. A 2-1 win over Panama was followed by successive draws with Jamaica and Haiti, with 1-1 and 0-0 score lines respectively. Those results were enough to see the Ticos finish top of the group.

Costa Rica therefore advanced to the fifth round, in which they were placed into a six-team group featuring home-and-away matches in a format referred to as ‘Hexagonal’, which represents the final and decisive round of qualification in the CONCACAF system.

Oscar Ramirez’s side got off to a flying start with a comfortable 2-0 success over Trinidad and Tobago and a 4-0 crushing of the United States, before being beaten 2-0 by Mexico in March 2017.

The Ticos bounced back to earn a 1-1 draw with Honduras. A 0-0 draw with Panama continued the recovery, before a 2-1 victory over Trinidad and Tobago set the Ticos on course for a successful group campaign.

An impressive 2-0 defeat of the United States, courtesy of a Marco Urena brace, gave Costa Rica further momentum. A 1-1 draw with Mexico followed to further boost their hopes of qualification, before a 95th minute Kendall Watson equaliser snatched a vital point for Ramirez’s team against Honduras in another 1-1 draw.

A 2-1 defeat to Panama rounded off the qualification process for Costa Rica in October 2017, but Ramirez’s side still finished second in the group behind Mexico, which was enough to secure the Ticos’ place in the finals of the tournament in Russia.


Group Stage

As with the 2014 edition, Costa Rica face another group campaign at this summer’s tournament in which they will be considered to be the outsiders in Group E.

A positive result from their opening match against Serbia on 17 June could be vital, with the daunting prospect of facing Brazil five days later looming large on the group stage schedule for Oscar Ramirez’s side.

Costa Rica conclude the group phase with an outing against Switzerland in what could prove to be the most decisive match of all. With very little expected of the Ticos against fellow South American counterparts Brazil, a victory over the Swiss could be crucial to securing Ramriez’s men’s place in the knockout stages in Russia.


Possible Route to the Final

Whilst Brazil will be the overwhelming favourites to finish top of their group, Costa Rica can take great heart from having overcome not dissimilar odds against them to top their group in 2014.

This time out, finishing as runners up to the samba stars of Tite’s side would represent a strong achievement and set up a last 16 encounter with the winner of Group F. This is, of course, likely to serve up a daunting showdown with current world champions Germany.

Whilst facing Joachim Low’s side may prove to be a mission of improbable success, Costa Rica’s victory over Greece in Brazil proved that the South Americans are capable of holding their own against European opponents in the round of 16 at the World Cup.

An unlikely victory over Germany could see similarly intimidating opponents lie before them in the likes of Belgium in the quarters, with the semi-final stage primed to throw up yet more elite counterparts in either Spain or Argentina.

In truth, reaching the quarter-final stage in 2014 was a remarkable achievement for Costa Rica, and a similar depth of progression into this summer’s tournament would represent similarly great success for Oscar Ramirez and his side.


Squad

Whilst the likes of Real Madrid number one Keylor Navas, former Fulham forward Bryan Ruiz and Arsenal outcast Joel Campbell are set to sprinkle some stardust into the 23-man group, many others will be unknown to European fans, with only eight of the squad playing for European clubs.

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

Defenders: Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ian Smith (Norrkoping), Ronald Matarrita (New York City FC), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Kendall Watson (Vancouver Whitecaps), Johnny Acosta (Aguilas Dorados)

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

Forwards: Johan Venegas (Saprissa), Joel Campbell (Arsenal), Marco Urena (Los Angeles FC)


Predicted Lineup

(5-4-1): Navas, Gamboa, Acosta, Gonzalez, Duarte, Oviedo, Borges, Ruiz, Colindres, Campbell, Urena


Prediction

Costa Rica’s surpassing of all expectations to win the ‘group of death’ at the 2014 World Cup proves that the Ticos are not a side to be underestimated. Where top quality may at times be lacking, hard work, application and winning desire are certainly in no shortage.

Whilst their group this summer poses another tough task ahead in Russia, it is not beyond them to sneak through as runners-up behind Brazil. But overcoming likely opponents in Germany in the last 16 would likely prove to be too great a challenge to overcome.

Progression to the knockout stages is, however, very much a realistic target for Oscar Ramirez’s side, and would represent another great success for the South American nation who have become famed for overachievement.

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