Uruguay enter the 2014 World Cup with considerable expectations after their surprising run to the semifinals in 2010, while Costa Rica, in their fourth World Cup, will be looking to get out of the group stage for the first time since 1990. Can the Ticos pull off an upset to open Group D play?
HOW'S SUAREZ?: There's no doubt Luis Suarez is vital to Uruguay's chances overall at this tournament. When it was suddenly announced last month he had undergone knee surgery, the timing came as a shock, but the prognosis for his return to competitive action was billed as "15 days to four weeks."
While not all knee surgeries are equal, the rate at which stars of other teams have gone down with major injuries in the lead-up to the World Cup must be giving Suarez and Uruguay coach Oscar Washington Tabarez pause. It seems unlikely Suarez will feature against Costa Rica, as the English press is already projecting he will miss Uruguay's second group game against England, and that could provide a break to help boost the Central Americans just enough to gain a foothold in this game.
REPRIEVE FOR CREW'S GONZALEZ: Defender Giancarlo Gonzalez was at risk of missing the tournament following a red card for violent conduct in a friendly against Ireland on June 6 at PPL Park. However, FIFA announced following the game that the Columbus Crew's center back would not be required to serve a suspension at the World Cup, and instead will be forced to sit out the next friendly Costa Rica plays. Though Gonzalez looks set to start against Uruguay, the elbow he unleashed on Irish striker Kevin Doyle reportedly left Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto none too pleased, so Gonzalez's place in the starting lineup could very well be in danger yet.
CAN RUIZ BREAK THROUGH IN BRAZIL?: Bryan Ruiz is Costa Rica's best-known player globally, but with his national team, he's often flattered to deceive. Now that Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio will miss Brazil 2014 with a broken foot, and with youngster Joel Campbell still emerging as a scoring threat, Ruiz will be counted on to be the Ticos' main man at this World Cup. Will he be up to the challenge?
GODIN'S TIME TO SHINE: Uruguay captain Diego Lugano has long been a stalwart in central defense for his country, but recent struggles on the club front have left many to wonder if his best days are long gone. Fortunately, his partner in the middle, Diego Godin, is coming off a fantastic season with his club team, Atlético de Madrid. An assured defender with a knack for scoring off set pieces in the biggest moments, Godin may be as important to Uruguay's chances in Brazil as Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
THE STAR YOU KNOW
- Edinson Cavani, forward, Uruguay -- Cavani has proven adept at slotting in up top as a complementary figure to superstars (Suarez, Diego Forlan for Uruguay, Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Paris St.-Germain). But he possesses superstar qualities in his own right, and with Suarez likely to be limited for much or all of the tournament, Cavani will finally get his opportunity in the spotlight and will likely take advantage of it.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU
- Keylor Navas, goalkeeper, Costa Rica -- He's sure to see plenty of action, but Navas is a player who generally gets more respect in Spain, where he plays for Levante, than around CONCACAF. It will take a united effort for Costa Rica to make any noise against the likes of Uruguay, England and Italy, but if they have success, Navas is sure to figure prominently.