2014 World Cup Group D team previews: Costa Rica

Analysis of Costa Rica's 2014 World Cup chances in a Group D with England, Uruguay and Italy.
The Costa Rica team train on May 21, 2014. Ezequiel Becerra / AFP
The Costa Rica team train on May 21, 2014. Ezequiel Becerra / AFP

Costa Rica’s chances of surviving one of the World Cup’s toughest groups depend on the recovery of an injured defender and the performance of a young striker making his mark in Europe.

The Ticos, playing in their fourth World Cup and their first since Germany 2006, face former world champions England, Uruguay and Italy in Brazil, with few pundits giving them much chance of advancing.

After qualifying for the tournament in October, Jorge Luis Pinto’s men were shut out in three friendlies before finally finding the net in a 2-1 victory over Paraguay in March.

While the Ticos were missing key players in those matches, the results underlined how little depth they have in the squad and how much they will rely on the goalscoring prowess of 21-year-old striker Joel Campbell.

On loan from Arsenal to Olympiakos Piraeus, Campbell is enjoying a good season in the Greek league and has drawn praise from national team assistant coach Paulo Wanchope.

He scored a superb goal against Manchester United in the Champions League round of 16 in March and although United eventually knocked his team out, his name became known to a wider audience.

“People will expect even more from him now he scored against United, he is doing well and people will expect more when he comes back to Arsenal,” Wanchope said after the game.

“But he’s a great talent, he is someone who can do something different in the game. When we need someone to break down the defensive players, he is someone who can really do great things for Costa Rica.”

Some bad news for the team, though, is the absence of Everton left-back Bryan Oviedo, who broke his leg in an FA Cup match in January.

One area where Pinto need not worry is between the posts, where Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas has impressed in Spain’s Primera Liga.

Costa Rica, who finished second in Concacaf qualifying behind the United States, have participated in three World Cups previously, but made it out of the group stages only once, in 1990, when they beat Scotland and Sweden and narrowly lost to Brazil in the group stage.

They came up against Czechoslovakia in the second round and although they eventually lost 4-1, the match was in the balance until the closing minutes when Tomas Skuhravy scored for the third time.

Of more immediate concern to Pinto are the upcoming games in Group D. The Ticos open the tournament against Uruguay in Fortaleza on June 14, face Italy in Recife on June 20 and play England in Belo Horizonte on June 24.

Asked what his expectations are he told World Soccer: “We’re going to face three strong teams with World Cup pedigrees and that will motivate us and make us get a better feeling of the tournament. It will make us react better on the pitch. We have never beaten any of them. Let’s hope this is the moment.”

Five to watch:

Keylor Nevas, goalkeeper (Levante); Age 27; 57 caps. After arriving at Levante on loan in 2011, Nevas has turned into one of La Liga’s most highly rated goalkeepers. His play this season has anchored one of the Spanish league’s best defences and drawn the attention of major clubs abroad. Nevas made his debut for the national side in 2008 and was named best goalkeeper of the 2009 Concacaf Gold Cup competition.

Junior Diaz, defender (Mainz); Age 31; 60 caps. The athletic defender and strong tackler made his first appearance for the senior national team in September 2003, and since then, has been a steady presence in the back line. The Mainz man had stints in Poland and Belgium before arriving in the German league in 2012.

Christian Bolanos, midfielder (FC Copenhagen); Age 29; 53 caps. The speedy winger known for his precise crosses joined Danish top-flight side FC Copenhagen in 2010. Since his arrival, Bolanos has largely been first choice on the right side. Tried to join an English Premier League side, but was unable to obtain a work permit.

Bryan Ruiz, forward (PSV Eindhoven); Age 28; 61 caps. The captain of the national team is a right-footed attacking midfielder who can operate further up the pitch as a second striker. He currently plays for Dutch team PSV, whom he joined in January on loan from English Premier League side Fulham. Has been a key player for the Dutch club since moving.

Joel Campbell, forward (Arsenal); Age 21; 31 caps. The speedy attacker signed for Arsenal in 2001, but has yet to make an appearance for the London side. He has instead spent three seasons on loan at Lorient, Real Betis, and last season at Olympiakos, where he scored a superb long-range goal in a Champions League match against Manchester United.

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Published: May 25, 2014 04:00 AM

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