Costa Rica’s incredible domination of arguably the true “Group of Death” is just the tip of the iceberg in a larger revolution brought to Brazil from their northern neighbors.
With three CONCACAF teams in the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup – the most ever – Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States are proving the key to winning games on the biggest stage isn’t always having the best players.
It’s having the best team.
Starting at the top, the trio of CONCACAF sides has proven the better team against sides such as Italy, Uruguay, England, Ghana, Portugal, and Croatia, and hung with title contenders Brazil and Germany.
The key to their success lies largely in the team cohesion, and that translates directly into not just tactical domination, but formational organization.
It showed in the United States 1-0 loss to Germany, one that many say felt like a win. With one of the world’s best attacks poking and prodding, the US remained composed at the back. They were unable to conjure up much possession going forward, but under assault from Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Philipp Lahm, they conceded just a single goal and looked strong in repelling build-up play.
Mexico’s impressive 0-0 draw against Brazil was also a classic display in organization, both at the front and the back. While goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa stole the show, Mexico’s trio of central defenders were a brick wall against the hosts. Fred was useless in the attack, Oscar was stuck in the middle third, and their hack-a-Neymar strategy kept him down for the most part.
And throughout Costa Rica’s ownership of Group D, they played brilliantly as a team to both pin down the opposition and make their attacks count. They held down Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, disconnected Uruguay’s midfield from their front line, and stuffed England’s wingers into the middle and kept the touchlines clear.
If these teams continue to play solid, technical soccer and stay together in shape and form, there could be more top-level teams that fall into the CONCACAF trap, this time in the knockout round.