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FIFA World Cup 2018 team analysis: Can ageing Costa Rica repeat Brazil 2014 run?
Bengaluru, June 6: The FIFA World Cup 2018 is under ten days away and all the qualified nations have already started their preparations for the biggest event in football, which starts on June 14 in Russia.
In this edition, 32 countries have made the cut to the final stages and all of them have been pooled into eight groups of four each. The top two from each group qualify for the knockouts (Round of 16) until one winner emerges at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15.
Germany and Brazil head into the World Cup as the favourites but will they be able to ward off other talented squads like Argentina, Spain and Belgium?
In Group A, hosts Russia will take on Asian giants Saudi Arabia in the World Cup opener, also at Luzhniki, on June 14.
And ahead of the World Cup opener, MyKhel breaks down the chances of all the 32 countries playing the World Cup final stages.
Two of Costa Rica’s 23-man World Cup squad are under-23 players:
🇨🇷 Ian Smith (20)
🇨🇷 Ronald Matarrita (22)
Smith has just one cap to his name. pic.twitter.com/iMX52NKkVH
— Scouted Football (@ScoutedFtbl) June 5, 2018
Country: Costa Rica
Placed in Group E also featuring Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland
vs Serbia, June 17, at 5.30 PM (Samara)
vs Brazil, June 22, at 5.30 PM (Saint Petersburg)
vs Switzerland, June 27, at 11.30 PM (Nizhny Novgorod)
FIFA ranking: 25
Previous World Cup: Quarter-finals
Last appearance: 2014 (eliminated by Netherlands in quarter-finals)
Best finish: Quarter-finalist (2014)
Star players: Keylor Navas (goalkeeper from Real Madrid), Bryan Ruiz (forward from Sporting CP), Joel Campbell (forward from Arsenal)
Coach: Oscar Ramirez
Costa Rica qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup by finishing second behind Mexico in the CONCACAF qualification tiebreakers. This will be the fifth appearance for the Los Ticos in the grandest stage of football. The draw looks a a little tricky for them as they have been grouped with Serbia, Switzerland and the mighty Brazil.
However, Costa Rica showed in 2014 that they are no push-overs after being drawn alongside three other World Champions in Italy, Uruguay and England. The Los Ticos were the favourites to finish bottom of the group. But, they shocked the world after they managed to top the group beating both Italy and Uruguay. While, they also took 2010 runner-up Netherlands to penalties in the quarter-finals where they finally crashed out.
Can Costa Rica do the repeat or go further?
The way Oscar Ramirez’s team qualified should make Costa Rica one of the teams to beat in the group. With eleven of the twenty three who were part of the 2014 squad set to travel to Russia, Ramirez’s team will possess continuity with a five-man defence which is exactly the same as the last tournament.
The form factor could be key here as all of their stars have struggled at club level except for Real Madrid shot-stopper Keylor Navas. To add to their woes, key attackers like Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz are also making their returns from injury layoffs. Hence, a repeat performance will be tough for Costa Rica.
In addition to the form factor and players returning from injuries, the Los Ticos have an ageing squad. If Campbell has a bad night, they will struggle with their major game plan of hitting teams on the counter, which was also their ingredient to success in 2014.
👀 @fedefutbolcrc 🇨🇷
⚽ Group E 🇧🇷🇨🇭🇷🇸
⭐ @NavasKeylor ⭐ A three-time UCL winning pair of hands 👐
Can Costa Rica go even further at Russia 2018? 🤔#DieMannschaft#WorldCup#ZSMMNpic.twitter.com/vbu5MyNNdN
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) June 5, 2018
Safe hands Keylor Navas
Navas’ heroics in Brazil 2014, where he conceded just two goals in normal time from five matches, made him one of the world’s best goal-keepers. This also earned him a move European giants Real Madrid.
Since his big transfer, he has won three Champions Leagues and one La Liga title with Real Madrid. The Spanish giant may be on the lookout to replace him, but for Costa Rica he is the star and at home he is valued both as a player and person.
Gracias por una despedida con tanto apoyo 🙌🇨🇷 pic.twitter.com/q0yLaDPr9I
— Bryan Ruiz González (@bryanruizcr) June 3, 2018
Captain Bryan Ruiz will lead from the front
Skipper Bryan Ruiz, who has 109 caps is arguably the most talented player in the squad and the key to Costa Rica in attack. In 2014, the left-footed midfielder was his country’s driving force. Now he is four years wiser but at 32 it is doubtful he has the legs to play in Ramirez’s 5-4-1 formation.
Plus, the past year hasn’t been great for him at Sporting Lisbon where has spent a lot of time on the sidelines due to injuries. But his creativity and touch are unquestionable and there is no grander stage than the World Cup to showcase them again.
Prediction: Costa Rica could finish second in the group, but will have to do very well to advance further and do a repeat of Brazil 2014. The only obstacle for them to progress to the round of 16 will be sixth-ranked Switzerland, who are a young and resilient team and on their day, a team to beat.