COSTA RICA BACK IN THE WORLD CUP
The Ticos missed out on the 2010 World Cup, but they are back after a strong qualifying campaign and will look to spring a surprise or two in Brazil. With Real Salt Lake forward Álvaro Saborío leading the team in scoring during the CONCACAF Hexagonal, Costa Rica may be flying under the radar, but their five-man backline may prove tough to crack for even the world's best teams.
GROUP D SCHEDULE
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Bryan Ruiz, F/M, Fulham: The lanky winger may be Costa Rica’s captain, but he has sometimes struggled to elevate his team on the international stage. As the best-known Costa Rican player worldwide, Ruiz will likely be well-marked in games, but if he can be more than a decoy on the field, Costa Rica may have a shot at making it to the knockout stage.
Álvaro Saborío, F, Real Salt Lake: Costa Rica relied heavily on Saborío to provide the goals, and he responded in a big way, bagging eight during the qualification cycle. The challenge will be to ensure the 2013 MLS Latino del Año remains healthy ahead of the World Cup, and that he’s in good form, since he's been a streaky player for Costa Rica.
Joel Campbell, F, Olympiacos: The speedy 21-year-old has been tipped to be the next Costa Rican star, and Arsenal made the leap of faith to sign him. Work-visa issues have meant that Campbell has been on loan around Europe the last three seasons as we await his breakout season. Although many will remember him for his infamous dive against the US in qualifying, he could wind up impressing in Brazil if he can harness his skills.
Jorge Luis Pinto is in his second stint in charge of Costa Rica after being re-hired in 2011. The Colombian has considerable experience coaching on the club front in South America and Costa Rica, and had a stint as boss of his own national team.
Perhaps understanding the need to solidify his defense, Pinto has enjoyed considerable success employing a five-man defense during qualifying. The strategy worked, as los Ticos qualified, beating the USA and Mexico along the way, and moving just outside the Top 30-ranked teams in the world (No. 31 in November 2013).
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 5-2-3, 18 pts. / 13 GF, 7 GA (second place in CONCACAF Hexagonal)
Costa Rica won all five matches at home in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, and lost only to Honduras and the United States on the road (the US loss was the now-famous “snow game” at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in March 2013). Although they benefitted from a very poor campaign by Mexico, Costa Rica clearly set themselves apart as the second-best team during the Hex.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Fourth appearance (1990, 2002, 2006, 2014)
After making the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, Costa Rica are back in the tournament after missing out in 2010. Their best showing came in their first World Cup in 1990, when they shocked the world and advanced to the Round of 16. They will need to be at their best, and may need some luck to make a similar run in 2014, but they will certainly be looking to show that CONCACAF quality does not end at the US and Mexico.
Costa Rica and the US national team split their matches in this year’s hexagonal, with the USMNT winning 1-0 in Colorado and Costa Rica winning 3-1 in Central America … In addition to Saborio, MLS features a sizable contingent of Costa Ricans, including internationals Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls), and Rodney Wallace (Portland Timbers) … Former LA Galaxy and Chivas USA defender Michael Umaña has been a regular starter for Costa Rica through qualification … The 2006 Costa Rica World Cup squad featured just one player then in MLS, Real Salt Lake defender / midfielder Douglas Sequeira … As of September 2013, six players in MLS were born in Costa Rica.