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2018 World Cup team preview: Costa Rica

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Getting to know Costa Rica: One of the most perennially underrated teams, Costa Rica is a threat to the world soccer order each time they take the field. With a solid mix of good attacking talent and a solid defensive base, Costa Rica has the experience and flair to prove a challenge for even the biggest world powers.

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Last World Cup, Costa Rica won a power group consisting of Italy, England, and Uruguay conceding just one goal among those three games – that alone should prove to teams not to take Los Ticos lightly. They beat Greece in the Round of 16 before their luck against European sides eventually ran out in a quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands in a penalty shootout.

All that being said, the run-up to the World Cup this time around has been anything but promising. Los Ticos have suffered friendly shutout losses to Hungary, Tunisia, and England all since last November, and before that got plastered by Spain. They have one more stiff test against Belgium to turn the bad juju around, or else they head into the tournament on a very sour note. There are questions about the age of the squad core, leaving this team with one of the highest ceilings and lowest floors of any team at the competition.

For more on Costa Rica’s World Cup adventure, click here.


What group are they in? Group E alongside Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia. It’s a group with few genuinely weak teams, and second place will be up for grabs behind perennial powerhouse Brazil. Switzerland is the favored side to take the second spot, but it’s not exactly stiff competition. If Costa Rica can summon the magic of four years ago, it would be anything but a surprise to see them advance to the knockout stages.


Game schedule – Group E

Sunday, June 17: Costa Rica v Serbia, Samara 8am, ET
Friday, June 22: Brazil v Costa Rica, Saint Petersburg 8am, ET
Wednesday, June 27: Switzerland v Costa Rica, Novgorod 2pm, ET


Projected lineup (5-4-1) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Navas —–

— Gamboa — Acosta — Gonzalez — Duarte — Oviedo —

— Campbell — Borges — Tejeda — Ruiz

— Urena/Venegas —


Star player: Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas is easily the most well-known player on this squad. The vice-captain of the side gives Costa Rica an experience edge, having played at the highest of high levels. Navas is coming off his third straight Champions League title at Madrid, and will likely reach the 80-cap mark with Costa Rica at this tournament. Navas used his brilliant performance at the 2014 World Cup to earn his move to Real Madrid, and four years later will have the weight of a country on his shoulders.


Manager: Óscar Ramírez leads his home nation to the World Cup for the first time, having taken over in 2015. Ramirez was in the right place at the right time, hired as an assistant to Paulo Wanchope in August of 2015 only to find himself as the lead man a week later following Wanchope’s dismissal after a fight. Ramirez lost his first match in charge of Los Ticos – to Brazil 1-0 on a 10th minute goal by Hulk. He will look to get revenge on the biggest of stages.


Secret weapon: Bryan Ruiz is the captain and creative force for Costa Rica, and has been for years. He was often described as “too good” for Fulham during his four years at Craven Cottage as nobody could figure out how to correctly deploy the midfielder, but he has run the show for his home country time and time again. Ruiz is known for his pitch vision and field marshal mentality, but isn’t afraid to get down and dirty when necessary.


Prediction: As mentioned before, the ceiling is just as high for this Costa Rica side as the floor is low, and Group E is one of the toughest to predict in the tournament. If they can steal a point from Brazil, the knockout stages will beckon for Ramirez and company, but the match against Switzerland to close out group stage play will likely be the judgement of their fate. Look for them to make it through for the second straight World Cup.

Messi to miss Barcelona’s next game; Suarez, Dembele also out

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has been left out of Barcelona’s squad to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

[ MORE: Liverpool bests wobbly Arsenal at Anfield | Player ratings ]

Messi returned to training this week after recovering from a right calf injury picked up in preseason, but the Argentina star was not included in the list of players available for the team’s home opener at Camp Nou Stadium.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener last weekend.

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also without forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele because of injuries.

Klopp preens after Liverpool win: ‘Our identity is intensity’

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Liverpool and Arsenal entertained on Saturday, with the Reds earning a deserved 3-1 win and keeping the Gunners off-kilter for most of the day.

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds pushed the tempo for much of the match and overcame some wobbly moments at the back to cruise to the win.

[ MORE: Liverpool-Arsenal recap | 3 things ]

They were tough, fiery, and deserved every bit of the win. And Klopp knows it, and knows that you know it. From the BBC:

“Our identity is intensity, and we showed that today. … We were a bit surprised by their system. We couldn’t know that they would play a diamond, but we switched things around and coped very well.

“The last 10 minutes I saw the possession – 53 to 47 or something like that – but over 80 minutes it must have been completely different. For 80 minutes we were completely in charge of the game. We are not Disneyland, we do not need to excite everyone in every second.”

This guy is an absolute beauty. Even those who despise him have to admit that we are lucky to have him.

Klopp’s men lapsed late and allowed a Lucas Torreira goal. The defense has been wobbly over the first three weeks of the season, and preseason was just as rough. Klopp would’ve loved a clean sheet for the first time since the first week of preseason, but he’s happy with the performance.

“I would have loved to have it, but things can happen. They’re a quality side, Arsenal. I didn’t see that many chances, but we were really in charge today and completely deserved the win.”

Liverpool is off to Burnley next, and then will enjoy the international break.

Bundesliga wrap: Lewandowski scores hat trick for Bayern; USMNT’s Morales scores

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What a good day (well, 2 days) for the visitors.

[ MORE: Liverpool-Arsenal recap | 3 things ]

Bayern, Gladbach, Bayer, and Freiburg joined Friday winners Borussia Dortmund in being in the away locker room and the win column on Saturday in the Bundesliga.

Newly-promoted Union Berlin got a point away from home, too, and Werder Bremen scored twice and nearly took a point off Werder Bremen.

Boo home teams. Boo.

Schalke 0-3 Bayern Munich

A Robert Lewandowski hat trick betrayed a halfway decent effort by Schalke as Bayern rebounded from a season-opening draw to claim all three points at the Veltins Arena.

On the American side, only Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich covered more ground than Schalke’s Weston McKennie’s 12.36 km. McKennie registered a shot and completed 32 of his 34 passes.

Mainz 1-3 Borussia Monchengladbach

Stefan Lainer, Alassane Plea, and Breel Embolo all scored in Gladbach’s comeback from an early concession.

USMNT midfielder Fabian Johnson subbed off after 79 minutes after Embolo scored Gladbach’s final goal, registering 10 won tackles.

Fortuna Dusseldorf 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen

USMNT goalkeeper and Man City loanee Zack Steffen had a Man of the Match performance last week for the hosts, and was under siege again this time to less success.

An American player did produce a goal in the contest, with Alfredo Morales scoring for his fourth-consecutive Bundesliga campaign. Throw in the second tier, and the midfielder has scored in eight-straight German seasons between his current team, Ingolstadt, and Hertha Berlin.

Morales covered the second-most ground for Dusseldorf. At 29, could he be one of the new faces that Gregg Berhalter wants to see this September with the USMNT? Probably not, but it’d be neat.

Elsewhere

Koln 1-3 Borussia Dortmund — Friday
Augsburg 1-1 Union Berlin
Paderborn 1-3 Freiburg
Hoffenheim 3-2 Werder Bremen
RB Leipzig v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 9:30 am. ET Sunday
Hertha Berlin v. Wolfsburg — Noon ET Sunday

Who shined and who stunk in Liverpool’s win over Arsenal

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Arsenal was soundly beaten at Anfield by the defending Champions League winners in a contest that proved the massive gulf between the two sides.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Liverpool is clearly one of the best teams in the world, while Arsenal still has a long way to go to be a viable contender a top four spot in the Premier League table. The Gunners invested heavily this summer hoping to make a push back into the Champions League, but they did little to address the defensive frailties and it showed.

Here’s a brief overview of who stood out on both ends of the spectrum as Liverpool stays top of the table and Arsenal heads home licking its wounds.

STUDS:

  1. Liverpool’s left flankAndy Robertson and Sadio Mane bossed the game, of that there is little question. Through the first half, the left side of Liverpool’s formation had pressed Arsenal into oblivion. By halftime, Andy Robertson to Sadio Mane was the most prolific pass combination with 17, level with Giorginio Wijnaldum to Robertson. Mane, Robertson, and Wijnaldum combined for eight successful tackles, seven of which were in the attacking half. Mane himself was 5/5 tackling in the first half, a stunning total that kept Arsenal pinned deep in its own half by forcing repeated turnovers.
  2. Roberto Firmino – The Brazilian’s creativity and inventive nature never ceases to impress. He was at it again against Arsenal, producing space and presenting options for teammates with his top-notch off-ball movement, and every time the ball touched his feet he produced something mouth-watering. His lay-off to Mohamed Salah led to the second-half penalty, and was 16/23 passing in the attacking third overall. His ingenuity is what sets Liverpool’s attack apart from the pack.
  3. Mohamed Salah – While the left side of Liverpool’s formation ran the first half, Salah was the star of the second 45. He earned and scored the penalty soon after the break, and scored a stunning solo goal to put the game away.

DUDS:

  1. Unai Emery – A worse performance than anyone on the field, the Arsenal manager has had a mare. By playing no wingers and having all his attackers pinch, he allowed Liverpool to play outside in and deploy essentially a five-man front line with acres of space on the flanks, pinning his full-backs to the end line. Emery never changed shape once throughout the match, instead just stretching out his defensive line to deal with the Liverpool runners out wide and leaving huge patches of empty space across the back. Bafflingly, with a 3-0 deficit and a half-hour to go, he left Alexandre Lacazette on the bench and instead brought on defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira, and didn’t even bother to change the shape, instead simply shifting the midfield diamond around. Granit Xhaka, the defensive midfielder, was all over the pitch as Arsenal was stretched thin by Liverpool’s marauding width. The Gunners only erased the clean sheet when Liverpool sat back and allowed them to come forward, no consolation for the beatdown they suffered. To make matters worse, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was bright after coming on, making Emery look worse for leaving another potentially game-changing player on the bench so long. The Gunners’ will want to take a long look at himself after this match, because this is the kind of performance that gets a manager fired.
  2. David Luiz – The former Chelsea man was downright awful. The penalty early in the second half was blatant, and he failed to even contest Salah on the wing for Liverpool’s third. He wasn’t helped by Emery’s miserable tactical setup, but Luiz’s arrival has done little to alleviate Arsenal’s obvious defensive deficiencies.
  3. Nicolas Pepe – The Frenchman earned his first Premier League start, and he struggled with confidence early on. Pepe fired a long-range effort just wide of the top-left corner on the half-hour mark that seemed to show promise, but he whiffed on a huge opportunity on the counter 34 minutes in with the game still 0-0, putting his one-on-one shot right at Adrian, a moment of serious regret for the Gunners in a game that eventually got away from them. He waited too long to send Aubameyang through on goal early in the second half and was lucky not to have it given offside. Pepe was good in bunches, completing 7 of 10 attempted take-ons which will give Gunners fans hope moving forward, but that miss was a significant moment in the match.
  4. Trent Alexander-Arnold – With Liverpool looking to cross Arsenal to death, Andy Robertson vastly outplayed his counterpart TAA on the opposite flank. Alexander-Arnold’s deliveries into the box were toothless, failing to find an attacker with balls that floated and sailed, and ruining a chance just before the opener with a bad cutback. The 20-year-old is a fantastic player – case in point, we’re criticizing his deliveries in a game where he got an assist off a corner. In fact, that assist was his only connected cross of a whopping nine attempted in the first half. We know he can do even better, and he will going forward, of that there is no doubt.