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.