World Cup 2018: Costa Rica Preview
After lighting up the tournament four years ago, can ‘Los Ticos’ repeat their fortunes in Brazil?
Four years ago the world fell in love with La Sele as Tico’s celebrated their best run at a World Cup. Winning a torrid group comprising England, Italy, and Uruguay, Costa Rica advanced to the knockout stages, eventually falling on penalties to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
In 2018, Oscar Ramirez has been assigned the task of repeating the successes of four years ago after a dominant display in their qualification group.
They are joined in Group E by Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia, with their opening match on June 17th.
Road to Russia
Finishing second to Mexico, Costa Rica lost twice over ten matches with a 4-0 home victory against the USA proving the standout result of their CONCACAF campaign. Considered as a derby fixture for Costa Rica, this victory shouldn’t be understated as an example of their ability to rise on the big occasion.
A miserly 14 goals in ten outings will be of concern coming into the finals for Oscar Ramirez, especially when considering the step up in class that awaits them in Group E.
Shy in front of goal, La Sele’s lack of fire-power may prove their undoing this time around with their focus on a 5-4-1 formation limiting the supply that pacey striker Marco Urena will have to feed off.
Bryan Ruiz and Keylor Navas remain the stars of this loveable outfit, with a familiarly daunting group awaiting them in Russia.
Joel Campbell will provide suitable pressure on Urena for a starting role in leading the Tico’s line, however, the 28-year-old’s goal record speaks volumes in justifying his selection.
Key player: Keylor Navas
Over the past four years, Keylor Navas has cemented his legacy as one of the finest goalkeepers, if not, footballers, to come out of Central America.
The two-time Champions League winner has underpinned the rise of Costa Rica over the past decade; his incredible performances in Brazil at the previous World Cup landed him the opportunity to play for the most famous team in club football.
Continuing to prove the doubters wrong, the 31-year-old has earned the respect of Zinedine Zidane between the Real Madrid sticks and, despite the constant rumours that Los Blancos are in the hunt for a new goalkeeper (namely, David de Gea), the Perez Zeledon native has notched up close to 100 appearances, as well as countless honours.
If Costa Rica are to come close to repeating their feat at the last World Cup, Navas will be required to dig La Sele out of trouble on more than one occasion.
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Costa Rica.
Brazil, undoubtedly, will be the focus of everyone’s attention in Group E.
Damage limitation will be at the forefront of Costa Rica’s mind when facing the five-time World Cup winners in their second match, with half an eye on goal difference.
A negative spin, perhaps, but with Serbia and Switzerland in their other two group fixtures, Ramirez will set his side out to counter the lesser-quality opposition of the two European sides.
Playing Serbia first will surely have its benefits; you can imagine the loser of that fixture (if there is one) becoming resigned to elimination in the group stages. A draw would keep them both above water, just.
Prediction: Group Stage exit
Costa Rica only netted five goals at the last World Cup, with three coming in the same fixture against Uruguay.
It may be a little narrow-minded to suggest that the Central American outfit will need to average at more than a goal a game to come close to their 2014 successes, however, it’s realistic to assume that lightning won’t strike twice.
Stifling the Brazilian attack will be too much to ask for Ramirez’s side, however, four points against Switzerland and Serbia combined could well be enough for ‘the happiest country in the world’ to progress into the knockout stages once again.
This being said, the European sides in Group E have their own ambitions – ambitions that will surely prove the downfall of Costa Rica’s chances. A gallant effort will still struggle to see them out of the group stages.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group B in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.