Costa Rica | Group E | World Cup 2022 team preview
Sometimes stars align in mysterious ways. Before World Cup 2014, not much was expected from Costa Rica, and with good reason. Drawn in a group that boasted a total of seven World Cup titles, it made sense to count the minnows out. But then they beat Uruguay, before sending home both Italy and England.
They didn’t lose a single game back then, being sent home by the Netherlands after a penalty shoot-out. Russia 2018 was a disappointment, but the mean defense that paved way for history is still there. This time, they were left fourth in qualifying after Canada, Mexico, and the United States, before ending New Zealand’s hopes in the intercontinental play-offs.
How do they play?
When it gets difficult, Costa Rica locks it down. In 14 games, they scored just 13 times while allowing only eight in. The numbers do not speak in their favor: in ball possession, Los Ticos rank between Jamaica and St. Kitts and Nevis, while their opponents outshoot them almost by half.
When they get to a shooting position themselves, it’s likely from a header or from long distance, with one-third of their shots from outside the penalty area. The only thing they excel at is aerial duels, so expect the ball to be up in the air quite a lot. It won’t be easy on the eye.
Why they can win?
They are pretty good at what they do. A football match is not played on paper, and Costa Rica more than makes up for their shortcomings by fighting, harrassing, and kicking the opponent for 90 minutes straight. It also helps to have a 35-year-old Keylor Navas, one of the most decorated goalkeepers of the past decade, patrolling behind.
Why they can lose?
The willpower that got the Costa Ricans here might have been enough against the El Salvador’s and the Panama’s, but with football evolving, attacking players seem to be gaining an edge on defenders. This team is just not up to scratch, and with a tough group of Germany, Spain, and Japan, there might be a quick exit on the cards.
The leading stars
Navas might be the only one in the top European leagues these days, but 34-year-old Celso Borges is going to battle again, as will 32-year-old Bryan Oviedo, while 37-year-old Bryan Ruiz still captains the team. Former Arsenal striker Joel Campbell has to provide the goals, now 30 and playing in Mexico.
The fresh faces
Most of the key players are older but 22-year-old forward Anthony Contreras is someone who should earn a move away from his home league soon. The same already happened for 18-year-old Jewison Bennette, as he was picked up by former Premier League stalwart Sunderland. The teenager shined against New Zealand, wreaking havoc on the left wing.