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COSTA RICA SEEK FIRST GOLD CUP TROPHY AFTER BANNER WORLD CUP
If you’ve been asleep for the past year, you could be forgiven for thinking that this Gold Cup, and CONCACAF in general, is still a two-horse race between the US and Mexico. Costa Rica is the region’s top-ranked team at the moment (No. 14 in the world), after winning the “Group of Death” at last summer’s FIFA World Cup and coming within a penalty shootout of reaching the semifinals.
The Ticos’ form has fallen off a bit since then and just 11 members of their 23-man World Cup squad are on the Gold Cup roster. But if there were ever a time to put their stamp on CONCACAF and prove the World Cup was no fluke, this would be it.
GROUP C SCHEDULE
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Joel Campbell, F, Arsenal: The 23-year-old turned heads worldwide with his scintillating play at Brazil 2014, a year after turning stomachs in the US with a preposterous bit of fakery in World Cup qualifying. In other words, he is the embodiment of CONCACAF: supremely talented but not above a bit of, ahem, “gamesmanship.” He’ll be the Ticos’ most dangerous attacking threat.
Patrick Pemberton, GK, Alajuelense: The 33-year-old gets this nod not because of who he is, but who he isn’t. Fellow goalkeeper Keylor Navas earned a contract with Real Madrid after his outstanding performance at the 2014 World Cup, but isn’t on the Gold Cup roster. In his place is the veteran Pemberton, who’s spent his entire career in Costa Rica. Will he be able to carry the load for a team with title aspirations?
Bryan Ruiz, M/F, Fulham: The Ticos’ 29-year-old captain will be playing in his third Gold Cup, and has seen it all in his decade with the national team. After having his penalty kick stopped in Costa Rica’s World Cup quarterfinal, he’ll be hungry for some redemption.
You'd think that after last summer’s amazing World Cup run, Costa Rica would do everything to hold on to the manager who led them there. Well, you’d be wrong. That man, Jorge Luis Pinto, is currently the manager of Honduras. In his place is Paulo Wanchope, a prolific striker during his Ticos career (45 goals in 73 games) who served as Pinto’s assistant at Brazil 2014.
Wanchope, 38, got off to a good start in the manager’s role last September, leading Costa Rica to the title at the Copa Centroamericana. Though young, he’s no coaching debutante; he’s managed two different clubs (including heavyweights Herediano) in the Costa Rican top flight, and was on the national team staff for the better part of four years before landing his current role.
- Group B preview: Costa Rica are the favorites in Group B free-for-all
GOLD CUP HISTORY
Since the Gold Cup era began in 1991, Costa Rica have participated in every edition, with the exception of 1996. They came closest to lifting the Gold Cup trophy in 2002, losing out in the final to the United States. They’ve also been to the semifinals on four other occasions (1991, 1993, 2003 and 2009).
But Costa Rica has reigned as continental champions before: the team won the CONCACAF Championship (the precursor to the Gold Cup) on three occasions (1963, 1969, 1989). But then, they didn’t have a garishly oversized piece of shiny hardware to hoist above their heads, so do those really count?
There are a couple of very familiar faces on the Ticos’ roster – Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio and New York Red Bulls defender Roy Miller will both be at the Gold Cup. Also, head coach Wanchope retired in 2007 after playing one season with the Chicago Fire.