International Friendly: Scotland vs Costa Rica – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
It’s Alex McLeish’s first game in charge of Scotland in over a decade, can he start well against a Costa Rica side limping to the World Cup?
19:45 GMT, Friday 23rd March, Hampden Park (Glasgow, Scotland), Sky Sports Main Event/Football
On paper, there is very little between Scotland and Costa Rica. Yet the side from Central America are preparing for their fifth World Cup finals after reaching the quarterfinals in Brazil four years ago. As for Scotland, they have travelled to more World Cups, but the last came 20 years ago.
Scotland have stood still for two decades, but with a new manager at the helm and some promising youngsters, this is the start of a new era. Costa Rica would no doubt take a repeat of their trip to the last eight in Brazil this summer, but a friendly win is needed after a poor run of results.
Last time out
Scotland 0-1 Netherlands (International friendly)
With neither side heading to Russia, Scotland challenged the Netherlands who, along with Italy, are the ‘best of the rest’ from the teams not qualifying for the World Cup.
It was a great opportunity for the Scots to see how they match up against a dangerous opponent, whilst bleeding in some new players into their squad.
With Malky Mackay in charge as interim manager, he handed debuts to Ryan Jack, Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor and his young Scottish team pushed the Dutch close.
The Oranje took the lead through a counter-attack in the first half, finished off my Memphis Depay.
Scotland fought back bravely and some big chances to equalise, most notably through Ryan Fraser and Jason Cummings.
Not the result they deserved, but a performance moving in the right direction.
Hungary 1-0 Costa Rica (International friendly)
After two losses on the bounce and four games without a win, a trip to Hungary should have been for Costa Rica to get their World Cup preparations back on track heading into 2018. After a 5-0 demolition to Spain three days prior, confidence was low, and it told.
The hosts took the lead when Roland Ugrai fired a free kick from range low into the area, with Nemanja Nikolic sticking a leg out to poke it into the net.
Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez would not only have been disappointed with the result, but the lack of clear goal scoring opportunities against a nation who haven’t qualified for a World Cup finals since 1986.
The closest the visitors came was from a speculative 30 yard drive from Bryan Oviedo, and Hungary should have extended their lead when Ugrai tricked his way through the midfield and played a give-and-go to go through one-on-one, but let off a tame shot.
With Alex McLeish returning for a second spell in charge of Scotland, he will look to lay down a marker with his team selection.
McLeish is without the injured Kieran Tierney, Russell Martin and Dylan McGeouch and Scott Brown has retired from international football for a second time after failing to qualify for Russia.
The experienced names of Darren Fletcher, James Morrison, Robert Snodgrass and Steven Naismith have been dropped as the Scots look to the future.
We can expect Millwall’s Jordan Archer, Manchester United starlet Scott McTominay and Barnsley’s Oliver McBurnie all to make debuts.
Costa Rica lineup
Oscar Ramirez implements a five at the back system with La Sele and you can expect him to go close to full strength to get his side winning again. Former Arsenal winger Joel Campbell is ruled out through injury, with Ronald Matarrita and Christopher Meneses also unavailable.
Key battle: Ryan Fraser (Scotland) vs Cristian Gamboa (Costa Rica)
Despite being out of favour at Celtic under Brendan Rodgers, it will be an important night for Costa Rica right wing-back Cristian Gamboa.
The 28-year-old has played just 24 games for the Bhoys since moving from West Brom two years ago, and he will want to show his worth at Hampden Park against many of his Celtic teammates.
He will have his work cut out against Ryan Fraser who has shown decent form for Bournemouth for some time now, with seven goals and 11 assists in the past two seasons.
To make things worse, Gamboa also will have to deal with the surging runs of Andrew Robertson from left back, who is high on confidence after securing a starting berth with Liverpool.
With former Fulham man Bryan Ruiz not renowned for his defensive duties, expect to see Scotland looking to create two-on-one situations down the left flank on Gamboa.
McLeish’s second debut
It’s been an up and down career for Alex McLeish, enjoying success with Hibernian, Rangers, Birmingham and to an extent, Scotland. His record has been tarnished through disappointing spells at Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, and he hasn’t been seen in British football since 2013.
A 70% win record with Scotland in 2007 should be praised, with a victory over France putting them on the brink of qualification for Euro 2008. A loss to Georgia ultimately cost his this Scots as his side lost out to Italy in the final round of fixtures.
With a full two years to prepare and qualify for a tournament, McLeish will look to lay down a marker against Costa Rica. With the visitors out of form, it is the perfect opportunity to get off to a good start as well as look at the young talent at his disposal.
Costa Rica in a rut
Three losses on the trot doesn’t make good reading for Costa Rica, and with that in mind they have chosen very winnable fixtures ahead of the World Cup to return to form.
After Scotland, Ramirez’s men will face Tunisia, Northern Ireland, England and Belgium, so they will want a victory as soon as possible to get the monkey of their backs.
Performances tend to be more important in friendlies than results, but this may not be case for Costa Rica in Glasgow.
Scottish young stars
The focus will no doubt be on Scott McTominay at Hampden Park, who has only recently elected to represent Scotland.
The 21-year-old central midfielder has put serious pressure on the £90 million Paul Pogba at Manchester United and he looks set for a bright future. This a man who McLeish can build his new-look Scottish team around.
Goalkeeper Jordan Archer, defender Jack Hendry and forward Oliver McBurnie all have bright futures, and strong performances against a side heading to the World Cup will undoubtedly aid their cause in securing a place in McLeish’s plans.
Prediction: Scotland 1-1 Costa Rica
Effectively, a new look side faces a team out of form, making it a tough one to call. No player in the Scottish squad has more than three goals so you do worry if they can travel the five-man defence of Costa Rica.
The positivity around Hampden Park should encourage them to take at least a draw against their opponents.
Can Scotland pick up a win in Glasgow? Let us know in the comments section below.