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World Cup 2018: Can Costa Rica’s 23 man squad defy the odds once again?

One of the stories of the 2014 World Cup are back amongst the world’s elite, as Costa Rica jet to Moscow looking to rustle feathers once again. La Tricolor were given no hope four years ago in Brazil when drawn in a group containing Uruguay, Italy and England, but went on to top it and eliminate Greece in the round of 16. prior to suffering penalty heartbreak at the hands of Holland.

That was the furthest La Sele have ever gone in the competition, but could Oscar Ramirez’s troops go any further and write their names into World Cup folklore this time around? In the following article, we profile the men looking to do exactly that.

Be sure to check out our World Cup Trends: Previous Winners Stats And Facts to see what challenges await Costa Rica!

Fixtures:

Sunday 17th June (13:00) – Samara Arena, Samara: Costa Rica vs Serbia

Friday 22nd June (13:00) – Saint-Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg: Brazil vs Costa Rica

Wednesday 27th June (19:00) – Stadion Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod: Switzerland vs Costa Rica

The Squad:

Goalkeepers:

Keylor NAVAS (Real Madrid)
Leonel MOREIRA (Herediano)
Patrick PEMBERTON (Alajuelense)

Defenders:

Cristian GAMBOA (Celtic)
Ian SMITH (IFK Norrkoping)
Ronald MATARRITA (New York City)
Bryan OVIEDO (Sunderland)
Oscar DUARTE (Espanyol)
Giancarlo GONZALEZ (Bologna)
Francisco CALVO (Minnesota United)
Kendall WASTON (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Johnny ACOSTA (Aguilas Doradas)

Midfielders:

David GUZMAN (Portland Timbers)
Yeltsin TEJEDA (Lausanne)
Celso BORGES (Deportivo La Coruna)
Randall AZOFEIFA (Herediano)
Rodney WALLACE (New York City)
Bryan RUIZ (Sporting Lisbon)
Christian BOLANOS (Saprissa)

Forwards:

Daniel COLINDRES (Saprissa)
Johan VENEGAS (Saprissa)
Joel CAMPBELL (Real Betis)
Marco URENA (Los Angeles FC)

Squad Overview:

The first notable point of the 23 man squad is that 12 of those selected were included in the 2014 squad, so boss Oscar Ramirez has a decent amount of experience to call upon. Most of those heading to Russia play their football outside of their homeland, but there are 6 domestic players included, 3 of which from 33 time league champions Saprissa.

In the goalkeeping department, Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas has developed into one of the world’s household names since the last World Cup, and his starting spot will be given cover by domestic-based keepers, in the form of veteran Patrick Pemberton and Herediano stopper Leonel Moreira.

In defensive areas, some late changes to the squad were required, as 30 cap José Salvatierra ruptured his knee ligaments, affording young IFK Norrkoping defender Ian Smith the chance to challenge Bryan Oviedo for a place at full back, despite having played no part in qualification.

There’s very few surprises in the midfield, with Ramirez calling upon his trusted men once again, providing plenty of guile in the centre of the park. The creative weight of the team falls upon captain Bryan Ruiz, though 33 year old Christian Bolanos could be another handy option, so long as he builds match sharpness, only just returning from injury now.

It’s up top where options look really thin on the ground and Costa Rica could really do with another Pablo Wanchope developing. Joel Campbell will likely lead the line despite naturally being a winger. Though, coming into the tournament after a season plagued by injury, in which he only played 119 league minutes, it remains to be seen if Campbell can offer anything significant in attack. Marco Urena is the only player that can have any realistic hope of challenging Campbell for a starting spot, with Daniel Colindres and Johan Venegas making up the rest of a poor bunch.

Star Player:

Placed in a tricky group and lacking attacking talent, any hopes of advancing to the last 16 weigh upon Kaylor Navas, who is by far the biggest name in Costa Rica ranks. Navas had a fantastic 2014 World Cup and was very unfortunate to be pipped to the Golden Glove by Manuel Neuer, despite being part of the defence that conceded the least amount of goals in the competition and recording the highest save percentage of any goalkeeper to play more than 2 matches.

At club level, Navas has had plenty of criticism thrown his way but despite years of speculation regarding David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois, he remains Los Blancos’ number one. Having played at such a high level for such a prolonged period of time, winning medal after medal, few can deny the 31 year old is amongst goalkeeping elite and that’s something his nation will need him to demonstrate once again if they are to make any waves in Russia.

One to Watch:

Even the most ardent of Costa Rica fans couldn’t claim this to be a youthful squad and thus, there aren’t that many players jumping out as being worthy for this tag. Indeed, just two members of the delegation are aged 24 or under, meaning there’s not a great deal of emerging talent in travelling ranks.

Nonetheless, still aged only 25 and set to leave Arsenal in the summer, Joel Campbell could use the competition to effectively launch his career and attract a suitor in order to finally find a permanent home. Campbell has thus far shown flashes of promise but with time no longer on his side, the Russian stage looks like being his last audition to avoid being swept under the footballing ‘could have been’ carpet.

Some younger players than Campbell are listed in our potential breakout stars this summer in Russia feature.

Potential Lineup:

Costa Rica were a team built on defensive stability back in 2014 and still are. Los Ticos have no choice to be anything but, taking into account the profile of players they have and indeed, the side qualified for the competition conceding just 11 goals in 16 matches.

Boss Oscar Ramirez is very defensive minded, suiting the needs of the squad and he’ll look to shut up shop whilst looking to snatch a goal on the counter in the forthcoming tournament. Costa Rica will almost certainly take to the field in a 5-4-1 formation on opening day, with the following as possible starters:

Navas; Gamboa, Gonzalez, Duarte, Watson, Oviedo; Bolanos, Borges, Guzman, Ruiz; Campbell.

And that concludes our evaluation of this year’s Costa Rica squad. A team of dogged determination, built on defensive foundations but packing very little punch going forward. Can the Costa Ricans defy the odds once again or will it be an early flight home to San José?

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