The Nations of the 21st World Cup – Costa Rica

Costa Rica National Team

CRC

Los Ticos

Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude, the World Cup is here again. This summer, all eyes will be focused on Russia as the time to crown a champion draws ever near. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive deep beyond the usual team sheets, we’ll scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch/bar stool for Russia 2018.

Costa Rica
Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 4-2-4
Current FIFA World Ranking (May 2018) – 25th
World Cup 2014 Finish – Quarterfinals (Loss on penalties to the Netherlands)
Russia 2018 Group E (Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia)
Formation – 5-4-1 (variable)
Strengths – Experience, goalkeeper, individual player skills, strong identity as a group
Weaknesses – Defensive mistakes, health, lack of strikers, lapses in concentration
Major threats – Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, Marco Ureña

After the 2014 World Cup in which the Central American nation stunned the world by reaching
the round of 8, things haven’t exactly worked out the way they hoped going forward. Several players received an upgrade in their club status after the tournament in 2014, most notably goalkeeper Keylor Navas moving to Spanish giants Real Madrid and central defender Giancarlo Gonzalez joining Italian club Bologna from Columbus Crew (MLS). Costa Rican soccer (or football) is at a crossroads in which they can step up their game and become a household name in the world of football, or they can be left behind due to the rapid development of the modern game.

Costa Rica qualified for the 2014 World Cup by claiming the second spot in the CONCACAF
qualifiers. For the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Costa Rica matched their standing in the hexagonal, which is a group composed of the six teams in CONCACAF that fight for 3 spots in the World Cup, by being second only to Mexico. It may seem like the equaled position in the table for Costa Rica during the qualifiers means soccer is staying strong according to plan, but that is far from the reality.

¨Los Ticos¨ were able to claim the second spot during the CONCACAF qualifiers mainly due to
the poor performance on the pitch by some of their rivals. Other than Mexico, the other four
nations underperformed and opened a direct path for Costa Rica to book their ticket to the
World Cup in Russia this summer. After impressing the entire globe with an a attractive passing game and superb tactical awareness that allowed them to be one of the best defenses in the 2014 World Cup, their performances have left much to be desired since.

Are you a fan of Los Ticos or maybe just Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell? Doesn’t matter, get the Costa Rica Jersey from SoccerPro before the cup starts!

Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

When the qualifiers started, there was a confident atmosphere around the Costa Rican national team, but the sentiment has changed. After an unsatisfactory qualifying stage in which the fans expected more of the talented group of players, the reality of the deficiencies within the team has settled in and expectations have changed. Yes, the scenario is similar to the 2014 World Cup in the sense that they are underdogs in a group with opposition that at first looks stronger than them, but overall the level demonstrated by the team throughout the qualifiers was subpar in comparison to what was showcased in the previous World Cup. The FEDEFUTBOL (Costa Rican Soccer Federation) will likely be aiming for a string of strong performances in which Costa Rica can collect some points against strong opposition and maybe even be in contention to
move on from the group stage.

DEFENSE:

It is rare that a goalkeeper is the star player in a country, but that is exactly the case in Costa Rica. Costa Rica’s fans can sleep peacefully at night knowing that “El Halcon”, Keylor Navas, will be guarding them between the posts. Navas has continued to prove that he is one of the best shot stoppers in the world the last couple of seasons at Real Madrid and “Los Ticos” will rely heavily on his incredible reflexes and agility to keep the ball out of the goal. The other two goalkeepers in the squad are Patrick Pemberton and Leonel Moreira, who play in the Costa Rican League with Liga Deportiva Alajuelense and Club Sport Herediano respectively. They will have to be content with a tourist experience in Russia because unless Navas gets injured, they will have first row seats at every game.

After demonstrating superb defensive organization and skills in the last World Cup, Costa Rican fans will be hoping that those called up for the tournament in Russia are on their “A” game. Not much has changed regarding formation and defensive tactics since Oscar “El Machillo” Ramirez took over as the head coach of “Los Ticos” in 2015, so it is almost certain that “El Machillo” will continue to use a formation with 5 defenders.

When tactics are applied correctly and work out exactly as planned, the back line of 5 becomes
a major strength for the Central American nation. The backline has proven to be an advantage
for “Los Ticos” at times because it allows the team to be flexible. The team might be holding onto possession more in one game while in the next one they can sit back and wait until the
opponent makes a mistake so they can counter attack. Both of these options are viable because
there will always be a couple defenders left behind to hold down the fort. If both wing backs
decide to go up for an attacking play, they still won’t be very vulnerable as the 3 centre backs are usually positioned correctly on the pitch to cover the backs of those that decide to venture out into attack.

One major issue for “El Machillo”, and for the fans, is that some of the defenders performed
poorly throughout the past season or didn’t get nearly as much play time as they should have.
When talking about centerbacks, Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Giancarlo Gonzalez
(Bologna), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Johnny Acosta (Aguilas Doradas) enjoyed fine seasons in which they were automatic starters for their clubs most of the season, while Oscar Duarte (Espanyol) saw his game time restricted due to a serious injury.

On the wings, the options that “Los Ticos” have for left and right backs, the players had a wide variety of experiences this past season. Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), who starred in the
2014 World Cup, struggled to get game time this season in Scotland and will have to prove that
he is still the best right back in the country if he wants to edge out the youngster Ian Smith
(Norrkoping) from the starting lineup. Smith enjoyed a fine breakthrough season in Sweden. On
the other wing, Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland) played almost every game in the Championship, while Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC) had a long term injury before returning to the starting lineup of
the MLS team in the past couple matchdays.

If the group of defenders that Oscar Ramirez picks employs his tactics perfectly and avoid silly mistakes that are caused by lapses in concentration, Costa Rica’s defensive unit will likely be vital for the chances of the team advancing in the tournament once again.

MIDFIELD:

Costa Rica’s midfield is rich in quality and experience. Players such as Bryan Ruiz (Sporting
Lisbon), Celso Borges (Deportivo de la Coruña), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne) and Christian
Bolaños (Deportivo Saprissa) were key members of the squad that made history by making it all
the way to the quarter finals in the 2014 World Cup, and they will be seeking to repeat the feat.

The other midfielders that are part of the 23-man list who will represent “Los Ticos” in
Russia are David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Randall Azofeifa (Club Sport Herediano),
Rodney Wallace (NYCFC) and Daniel Colindres (Deportivo Saprissa).

Along with the defense, the midfield unit of the Costa Rican national team is strong, but seemed to lack confidence in the qualifying stages for the 2018 World Cup. Creativity will flow through the captain, Bryan Ruiz, while defensive minded midfielders like Borges and Guzman can help when it comes to sending long balls to the front line. Other players like Bolaños and Wallace will provide flair down the flanks and if they are performing at a high level they can become a real nuisance for opposing defenders.

Campbell

Joel Campbell

STRIKERS:

Well this is a tricky section of the Costa Rican national team to analyze because there are no
natural strikers in the list of 23 players going to Russia this summer. Maybe a better name for this section in this case would have been “more wingers”.

The three “strikers” Oscar Ramirez has called up for the World Cup are Joel Campbell
(Back at Arsenal after loan at Real Betis expired), Johan Venegas (Deportivo Saprissa), and
Marco Ureña (LAFC). This call up divided opinions in the Central American nation. Many believed that other players who are natural strikers and enjoyed fine seasons for their clubs in front of goal deserved to be on the plane to Russia. The likes of Mayron George (Lyngby BK) and Yendrick Ruiz (Club Sport Herediano) are just two of the many goal scoring candidates that were overlooked by “El Machillo”.

The controversy surrounding the players called up to lead Costa Rica’s attack in the World Cup
deepens when looking at the players’ individual statistics. Joel Campbell had his game time at
Real Betis restricted this season due to a serious injury that kept him out for several months, but also because of poor performances on the field and lack of professionalism off of it. When returning to Real Betis for the second time in his career people expected a lot from Campbell, but his numbers this past season can be summed up in only 8 appearances and 2 goals.

The same can be said for Marco Ureña. Although he was the joint top scorer for Costa Rica through the qualifying phase (tied at 4 goals with Christian Bolaños), his club form was quite
poor. The past season in the MLS he only managed to pierce the net 5 times in 25 games with
San Jose Earthquakes and this season nothing has changed. So far Ureña has played 7 times
for LAFC without opening his scoring account, although he has provided a few assists.

Finally, in his return to Costa Rican soccer after failing to make the grade in the MLS with both Montreal Impact and Minnesota United, Johan Venegas has been a disappointment for the fans. Most fans were hoping that Venegas wouldn’t make the list after a lackluster season, but he remains one of the men trusted by Oscar Ramirez. Instead of proving to be one of the best in the country upon his return, Venegas’ performances on the pitch were average and he only
managed to score 5 times in 20 games in a season that ended up with Deportivo Saprissa being
crowned champions.

GAME by GAME (v Serbia, v Brazil, v Switzerland)

*Keys to Serbia Game: Out of Costa Rica’s three opponents, Serbia is the weakest. If Costa Rica plays their cards right and perform without making any unnecessary mistakes, this is a game that can be won. Serbia won’t be a piece of cake though, as their combination of experienced and young players will be tricky. Veterans like Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Nemanja Matic will be the backbone of the team, while exciting players such as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Luka Jovic will provide the flair.
Prediction: Costa Rica wins a close one

*Keys to Brazil Game: The question here is how will Costa Rica deal with the incredible amount of talent in the Brazilian squad? From having a top goalkeeper like Allison, and world class midfielders like Casemiro and Coutinho to having superstars like Neymar and Gabriel Jesus up top, Brazil is one of the favorites to win the World Cup this summer. If Costa Rica claims any points in this game it will be a major surprise, but “Los Ticos’ will definitely try to avoid a heavy defeat against “La Canarinha”.
Prediction: Loss to Brazil

*Keys to Switzerland Game: This is a tough game to predict, but it reminds me of Costa Rica’s matchup against Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup. Although Switzerland are ranked 6th in the world, they aren’t a powerhouse in football (just like Uruguay), so anything can happen. If Costa Rica can apply their tactics flawlessly and nullify Switzerland’s star players like Stephan Lichtsteiner, Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo, then a surprise might be on the table.
Prediction: Tie or Switzerland win

costa rica squad

Los Ticos World Cup Squad

Here’s the Costa Rican Roster for Russia 2018

GOALKEEPERS (3): Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Patrick Pemberton (LDA), Leonel Moreira (Club
Sport Herediano).

DEFENDERS (9): Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ian Smith (Norrkoping), Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Johnny Acosta (Aguilas Doradas).

MIDFIELDERS (8): David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne), Celso Borges
(Deportivo La Coruña), Randall Azofeifa (Club Sport Herediano), Rodney Wallace (NYCFC),
Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Daniel Colindres (Deportivo Saprissa), Christian Bolaños
(Deportivo Saprissa)

FORWARDS (3): Johan Venegas (Deportivo Saprissa), Joel Campbell (Back at Arsenal after Real
Betis loan expired), Marco Ureña (LAFC).

Piece by Mauricio Venegas, master and commander of Costa Rican football. He’s a footie-obsessed senior at the Missouri School of Journalism and dreams of doing something related to the beautiful sport of soccer in life. He’s from Costa Rica and has been playing/watching soccer since he can remember. Favorite teams are Real Madrid and Arsenal. Connect with him at Facebook: Mauricio Venegas , Instagram: @mauricio2596

 

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