Costa Rica shocked the world in reaching the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, and a number of its veterans return for another run at glory in Russia.
Costa Rica heads to this summer's World Cup in Russia following an inspired performance which both surprised and impressed many during the previous tournament in Brazil in 2014.
Shock victories over Uruguay and Italy, followed by a 0-0 draw with England, saw Costa Rica emege in the most unlikely of circumstances, as Jorge Luis Pinto’s side finished top of Group D, establishing Los Ticos as the revelation of the tournament from the outset.
Eventually knocked out at the quarterfinal stage by the Netherlands on penalties, Costa Rica will be hoping to achieve similarly remarkable progress at this summer’s tournament in Russia, following on from what was regarded as the greatest footballing year in the nation’s history nearly four years ago. Here's what you need to know about Costa Rica entering the World Cup.
How They Qualified
Costa Rica entered the qualifying phase at the fourth round, placed into a group with Panama, Haiti and Jamaica. A 2-1 win over Panama was followed by successive draws with Jamaica and Haiti, with 1-1 and 0-0 scorelines respectively. Those results were enough to see the Ticos finish top of the group.
Costa Rica therefore advanced to Hexagonal, and Oscar Ramirez’s side got off to a flying start with a comfortable 2-0 success over Trinidad and Tobago and a 4-0 crushing of the United States–which resulted in Jurgen Klinsmann's firing–before being beaten 2-0 by Mexico in March 2017.
The Ticos bounced back to earn a 1-1 draw with Honduras. A 0-0 draw with Panama continued the recovery, before a 2-1 victory over Trinidad and Tobago set the Ticos on course for a successful group campaign.
An impressive 2-0 defeat of the United States at Red Bull Arena, courtesy of a Marco Ureña brace, gave Costa Rica further momentum. A 1-1 draw with Mexico followed to further boost hopes of qualification, before a 95th-minute Kendall Watson equalizer snatched a vital point for Ramirez’s team against Honduras in another 1-1 draw.
A 2-1 defeat to Panama rounded off the qualification process for Costa Rica in October 2017, and Ramirez’s side finished second in the group behind Mexico, which was enough to secure the Ticos’ place in Russia.
As with the 2014 edition, Costa Rica faces another group in which it will be considered to be the outsiders.
A positive result from their opening Group E match against Serbia on 17 June could be vital, with the daunting prospect of facing Brazil five days later looming large on the group stage schedule for Ramirez’s side.
Costa Rica concludes the group phase with an outing against Switzerland in what could prove to be the most decisive match of all. With very little expected of the Ticos against Brazil, more evenly matched matches against Serbia and Switzerland will like be where Costa Rica's fate is decided.
Possible Route to the Final
While Brazil will be the overwhelming favourites to finish top of their group, Costa Rica can take great heart from having overcome not dissimilar odds against them to top its group in 2014.
This time out, finishing as runner-up to Tite’s giants would represent a strong achievement and set up a last 16 encounter with the winner of Group F. This is, of course, is likely to serve up a daunting showdown with current world champion Germany.
While facing Joachim Low’s side may prove to be a mission of improbable success, Costa Rica’s victory over Greece in Brazil proved that the South Americans are capable of holding their own against European opponents in the round of 16 at the World Cup.
An unlikely victory over Germany could see similarly intimidating opponents lie before them in the likes of Belgium or England in the quarterfinals, with the semifinal stage primed to throw up yet more potential elite counterparts in either Spain or Argentina.
In truth, reaching the quarterfinal stage in 2014 was a remarkable achievement for Costa Rica, and a similar depth of progression into this summer’s tournament would represent similarly great success–and almost as unexpected.
Goalkeepers: Leonel Moreira (Herediano), Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Patrick Pemberton (LDA)
Defenders: Johnny Acosta (Aguilas Dorados), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Ian Smith (Norrkoping), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Midfielders: Randall Azofeifa (Herediano), Christian Bolanos (Saprissa), Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruna), Daniel Colindres (Saprissa), David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne), Rodney Wallace (NYCFC)
Forwards: Joel Campbell (Real Betis), Marco Urena (LAFC), Johan Venegas (Saprissa)
(5-4-1): Navas, Gamboa, Acosta, Gonzalez, Duarte, Oviedo, Borges, Ruiz, Colindres, Campbell, Urena
Costa Rica’s surpassing of all expectations to top the group of death at the 2014 World Cup proves that the Ticos are not to be underestimated. Where top quality may at times be lacking, hard work, application and winning desire are certainly in no shortage.
While their group this summer poses another tough task ahead in Russia, it is not beyond them to sneak through as runner-up behind Brazil. But overcoming what is likely to be Germany in the last 16 would likely prove to be too great a challenge to overcome. Should Mexico wind up winning its group and be the last-16 opponent, Costa Rica certainly would fancy its chances against such a familiar foe, and therein lies the path to another quarterfinal berth.
Progression to the knockout stage is very much a realistic target, and would represent another great success for the Central American nation. Anything else would have to be considered unexpected–though as 2014 showed, it's certainly possible.