Costa Rica—World Cup 2022 profile—26
Today, with Costa Rica, we continue to profile, in reverse alphabetical order, the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Los Ticos are participating in their sixth World Cup and have reached the Round of 16 and the Quarterfinals Stages once each among their past five qualifications. Their most memorable performance was at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They began by winning their group defeating Uruguay 3-1, Italy 1-0, and drawing with England 0-0. In the Round of 16, they drew 1-1 with Greece but progressed on penalties, and after a 0-0 draw with the Netherlands in the Quarterfinals they lost a memorable penalty shootout when Dutch coach Louis van Gaal substituted starting keeper Jasper Cillessen with penalty-specialist Tim Krul (6’4”) for the penalty shootout—the Dutch won 4-3 with two Krul saves making the difference.
Placed in Group E with Germany, Spain, and Japan, the Costa Ricans feel they match up well with Japan but will need another heroic couple of outings to deal with Spain and Germany. The disciplined and determined Ticos will remember 2014, and frankly, 2018, where they kept Brazil at bay until the 90+1 and 90+7 minutes when Coutinho and Neymar scored to pull out Brazil’s needed win.
Because they have done it before the Costa Ricans will believe it is possible, but this crew of key Ticos is not playing at the same level as the one of eight years ago and they will be using some younger talent in Qatar (despite carrying eight veterans of those prior campaigns on their roster including their two world-class stars, the talismanic Keylor Navas and Joel Campbell). The bottom line is that this Tico squad will face off against two European opponents who are both better teams and in better form. Expect Costa Rica to bow out at the Group Stage (miracles are possible but it would take a couple of big ones for them to progress). The team’s home kit is a red shirt with blue sleeve ends, blue shorts with highlights, and white socks and their away colors are white shirt and shorts with blue highlights, and black socks.
Costa Rica (CONCACAF)
Costa Rica is a Central American nation of 19,710 square miles broken up into coastal areas and mountainous ones (there are 14 known volcanoes in the country and six have been active in the past 75 years) with a tropical climate of basically two seasons wet and dry with temperatures ranging from a low of 70F in January to a high of 80 in June. The country is situated next to Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north and is home to the internationally renown Corcovado National Park, a pristine virgin tropical jungle with immense and protected biodiversity. The nation sits between the Mesoamerican and Andean native cultures and was inhabited by 10,000 BC and remnants of both the Clovis and Inca cultures have been unearthed inside its borders.
Now a unitary presidential republic the country was conquered and colonized by the Spanish until they obtained their independence in 1821 and then produced their current constitution (1949). The population of 5M speaks Spanish, is 84% White or Mestizo, 73% Christian, has a GDP of $128B, and an HDI score of 0.809 (very high). The most visited nation in Central America, Costa Rica has no standing army, a 97% literacy rate, and 79-year life expectancy, boasts a Blue Zone in the Nicoya Peninsula, and hosts the headquarters of many international NGOs. Costa Ricans have consistently ranked among the happiest humans on earth living life to its fullest and coining the phrase “pure life”—Pura Vida!
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers— Esteban Alvarado (Herediano), Aaron Cruz (Deportivo Saprissa), and Patrick Sequeira (Lugo); Defenders— Juan Pablo Vargas (Millonarios), Keysher Fuller (Herediano), Oscar Duarte (Al-Wehda), Bryan Oviedo (Real Salt Lake), Francisco Calvo (Konyaspor), Kendall Watson (Deportivo Saprissa), and Carlos Martinez (San Carlos); Midfielders— Carlos Mora (Alajuelense), Celso Borges (Alajuelense), Jewison Bennette (Sunderland), Bryan Ruiz (Alajuelense), Daniel Chacon (Cartagines), Anthony Hernandez (Puntarenas), Douglas Lopez (Santos de Guapiles), Aaron Suarez (Alajuelense), Gerson Torres (Herediano), Orlando Galo (Herediano), Roan Wilson (Grecia), Alvaro Zamora (Deportivo Saprissa), and Brandon Aguilera (AD Guanacasteca); Strikers—Anthony Contreras (Herediano), Johan Venegas (Alajuelense), and Joel Campbell (Leon).
Path to Qatar
Costa Rica were seeded into the Third Round of CONCACAF qualifiers for World Cup 2022 and were placed in a hexagonal playing the other seven teams home and away with the top three teams qualifying directly to Qatar and the fourth moving on to an inter-confederation playoff with their similar counterpart from the Oceania Confederation. Costa Rica came in fourth behind Canada, Mexico, and the USA and went into the playoffs against New Zealand. The Ticos won the playoff 1-0 with an early (3rd minute) score by Joel Campbell and a staunch defense that saw the Central Americans hold on despite New Zealand’s 67% possession and 15-4 shots at goal imbalance.
Costa Rican coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, is aware of their relative status on the world stage and in particular their dire straits in the upcoming group at Qatar. Thus, Suarez will be relying on the team’s tried and true 5-4-1 formation to thwart better opponents and hope that the speedy Campbell can manage a score while the willy Navas keeps the scoresheet clean.
Aside from Campbell and Navas, the team counts on veteran midfielders Bryan Ruiz (captain) and Celso Borges, and when healthy, their quintet of defenders (average age 32.25 years) Cristian Gamboa, Kendall Waston, Francisco Calvo, Bryan Oviedo, and Oscar Duarte.
Group and Tourney Prospects
The Ticos are tenacious, and we all know what a top keeper in top form can deliver in a close match. Similarly, the still athletic Campbell and Ruiz can deliver under pressure. The issue is going to be can the Costa Ricans absorb the relentless pressure of Spain’s younger stars and Germany’s physically imposing technical talent and yet manage to squeeze in a score to obtain the results they will need to progress. Papa thinks it is an effort too far for this crew and Keylor and company can be proud of their will bow out at the Group Stage.
Photo: Bryan Ruiz – Shutterstock ID: 440354125, by Celso Pupo