Talisman Bryan Ruiz celebrates against Italy. Photo: ESPN.

England v Costa Rica: World Cup preview

So, Los Ticos were predicted by many pundits to be in danger of suffering an early exit from the World Cup. However, as the nation has comprehensively shown in there last two matches, there is more to this squad than meets the eye…

First, some history. Costa Rica have only qualified three times, the first time being Italia 1990. This is their most successful campaign as they reached the round of 16 after beating Sweden and Scotland in the group stages. Then, in 2002, having dominated qualifying, they were cruelly eliminated by a Brazil thrashing.

They suffered a similar fate in 2006 as they lost all three of the group games. In the last few years, fortunes have changed greatly and they have surprised a few, including a draw against Spain and a 1-0 win over Brazil. In this qualification, they were the only team to score three goals against the USA as they came second in the final stage of qualification.

Many Costa Rican players are key parts of European teams

There is a very simple word that essentially sums up Los Ticos for this tournament: youthful. A large number of the squad have never been to the World Cup before. However, this group of the squad can take encouragement from greater experience of competitive football as many are key parts of European teams, meaning they face competitive players fighting for meaningful achievements on a weekly basis.

Costa Rica use a 3-6-1 formation to overcrowd the midfield and re-create their shape efficiently having lost the ball. When they get this shape back, they do not lose the ball for long, giving them more authority on the pitch.

Los Ticos are managed by Jorge Luis Pinto, a very experience manager in his second stint with Costa Rica. Having been sacked in 2005 after being hired to reach Germany 2006, this will be the first World Cup Pinto has managed at. This is clearly a very emotional campaign for Pinto as was heard when he was interviewed on a Costa Rican radio show. Overwhelmed by the fact his team had qualified and that he had redeemed his name, Pinto was reduced to tears of happiness, displaying quite clearly what taking part in the World Cup means to some.

Costa Rica use a 3-6-1 formation to overcrowd the midfield and re-create their shape efficiently

There are several star players to look out for in this squad, especially their captain Bryan Ruiz. Currently of Fulham, this attacking midfielder is famous for his incredible control of the ball as well as his strong desire and powerful heading ability. All of these skills have been aptly displayed in the Premier League- who can forget his cheeky chipped goal against Everton in October 2011?! He is worthy to be the dux forte of Los Ticos as he embodies their desire to win possession and their creativity going forward.

Another key player will be Alvaro Saborio, a striker for Real Salt Lake in the MLS. He is their all-time leading marksman, making him a real handful for even the most experienced of defences. Also, the young Arsenal winger Joel Campbell will travel to Brazil with Los Ticos. Some may know him from the spectacular goal he scored for Olympiakos against Manchester United in the Champions League whilst on loan. Through his loan spells, Campbell has developed his pace and crossing ability to make him an exciting young talent to watch in Brazil.

Keylor Navas has the sixth most clean sheets in Europe’s top 5 leagues

For me, the player most worth keeping an eye on is the goalkeeper, Keylor Navas. Aged 27, he is one of the most experienced players in this squad. This year, as keeper for Levante, after a dismal 7-0 defeat to Barcelona at the start of the 2013/2014 season, Navas has pulled through to hold the sixth most clean sheets in Europe’s top 5 leagues.

No other keeper has beaten his 160 saves and 80.4% shots-saved rating. In qualifying he only conceded 7 goals- the stats speak for themselves! Although a little rusty on his distribution, there is no doubt his firm hands will add to Los Ticos’ defence and make them a tough challenge for any of the Group D teams to break down.

Certainly, Costa Rica have proved they are a force to be reckoned with and there is no possibility that England will underestimate them. Costa Rica will certainly not be afraid to attack with the likes of Ruiz and Saborio but their defence will be the highlight of their campaign. A defeated and disillusioned England will find them a tough team to break down, and Hodgson will certainly be fearful of the very real possibility of finishing the competition with 0 points.


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