Costa Rica: 2018 World Cup Preview

Costa Rica were the revelations of the previous installment of the World Cup as they successfully reached the quarter-finals of the competition after finishing top of their group and beating Greece in the round of 16, surpassing many people’s expectations for the team before finally being knocked out of the competition by the Netherlands via an immensely dramatic penalty.

Before the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Los Ticos have only managed to qualify for this prestigious tournament 4 times where in the year 1990 had Costa Rica their first-ever participation in the group stage of the World Cup. Reaching the quarter-finals in the 2014 FIFA World Cup was the furthest ever they have advanced in this event.
Now, coached by Oscar Ramirez and led by captain Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica are expected to replicate their impressive showings from the previous World Cup, but can they do it?

Road to Russia

Los Ticos successfully qualified for the fifth time to the group stage of the World Cup, but it was definitely not that easy for them to go through all the qualification rounds though.
Oscar Ramirez’s side gained an automatic qualification to the fourth round as his team were the highest-ranked team in CONCACAF (15th in the FIFA rankings and 1st in CONCACAF in 2014).
They were placed in group A, facing teams like Honduras, Canada, and El Salvador. Bryan Ruiz and co. managed to qualify to the fifth round in a spectacular fashion, winning 5 games and drawing once, scoring 13 goals and conceding only 1 in the process.
In the fifth round, they were performing decently but not as awe-inspiring as the fourth round as they managed to edge through the group and qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia with 16 points, being the runner-ups just behind group toppers Mexico. Their somewhat poor form should not be brought along to Russia if they are hoping to advance to the latter stages of the World Cup, let alone qualifying from a group filled with the likes of Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia.

Style of Play

Since the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Costa Rica didn’t really undergo such drastic changes in their style of play with 5-4-1 flat being their favourite formation to play with in international matches. They are a very defensive team relying mainly but not solely on counter-attacks. These tactics were very effective at times as they manage to frustrate their opponents in the defensive third, waiting for them to make any sort of mistake then taking advantage out of it.
The leader of the frontline would be the 28-year-old Los Angeles FC striker Marcos Urena. Costa Rica didn’t really have any pure striker in their team, but Marcos Urena who usually acts as a secondary striker would still work. Wingers Johan Venegas and Joel Campbell could also play in this position but they are much more effective when deployed on the wide side of the field. Urena’s pace could still be terrifying for the opposition’s defence knowing that Costa Rica would rely on him as the producer of the end product in their counter-attacking football.
In the wings we are likely to see, Bryan Ruiz and Cristian Bolanos, who would occupy the right and left wing respectively. Both could be rotated or substituted in the second half with Joel Campbell and Johan Venegas respectively.
In the defensive midfield berth, David Guzman and Celso Borges would be the occupant. Experienced Deportivo La Coruna midfielder Celso Borges is probably the mainstay in this team, while David Guzman could be rotated with Yeltsin Tejeda.
Costa Rica’s five in the back would be not very different as their five defenders in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, with names like Cristian Gamboa and Bryan Oviedo as the fullbacks, while Oscar Duarte, Giancarlo Gonzalez, and Jhonny Acosta as the centre-back trio.
Meanwhile, Keylor Navas would be guarding the goal as the number one keeper in the Costa Rica national team. He is as solid and impressive as ever though recent performances in the international friendlies clearly showed that he needs help from his defenders to do proper defending in order to keep the team from conceding. We wouldn’t expect him to make any kinds of stupid error though considering his ability, intelligence, and experience.

Manager: Oscar Ramirez

The 53-year-old Costa Rican coach was appointed as the manager of the Costa Rica national football team on August 18, 2015, replacing Paulo Wanchope who was initially appointed as the manager of Costa Rica, but subsequently resigned after getting into a fight in Panama. Ramirez, who was his assistant manager at that time, was promoted and he kept his place until now.
Ramirez has a rather decent record as a manager, especially as the Costa Rica national football team manager, but recently he has made headlines after Costa Rica’s 4-1 loss to Belgium in an international friendly, where he referred to Hazard, who did a lot of damage to his team, as player number 10, reflecting his lack of knowledge and preparation ahead of the game.

Key Player: Keylor Navas

Los Ticos’ guardian angel, never really disappoints. The 31-year-old Real Madrid keeper is in such a stellar form both at the club and at the national team, and his morale will surely be boosted after winning the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid where he played a key part in their success. He would be expected by many Costa Rica fans and football enthusiast to do well in Russia too.
Navas is known for his strong mentality, good communication, bravery, and his general goalkeeping attribute which is heavily impressive.
Some other players who could play an important part in the team are Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell. Playing on the wings, Ruiz could pose some threat to the opposition defenders with his flair, technique, and creativity, all combined with his fine eyes for a pass. While Joel Campbell, expect him to be a super-sub like he was in the 2014 World Cup. Coming in the second half, where the oppositions have depleted stamina and pace, Ramirez could use his fresh legs to storm the oppositions’s defence with his blazing pace and decent finishing.

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