FIFA World Cup 2018: Costa Rica
In the 2014 World Cup in Brazil Costa Rica were one of the surprise packages, playing attacking and exciting football they reached the knockout stages before finally being knocked out with their heads held high. Fast forward four years to this years tournament in Russia and it is entirely possible that expectations are raised, however given the form of some of the key players in the squad this season those expectations may need to be held in check.
There is still plenty of talent in the squad with Keylor Navas or Real Madrid and Bryan Ruiz of Sporting Lisbon still the stand out players but the likes of Joel Campbell, who was arguably the breakout star four years ago, has not kicked on over the last four years and whilst still on the books at Arsenal his series of loan spells in various nations has possibly seen him regress.
With a difficult group containing Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia this Costa Rica side would do well to reach even the last 16 of the tournament.
Coach – Oscar Ramirez
A former national team stalwart whose spell as coach has so far had mixed reviews. Impressive in the domestic scene as he took Alajuelense to the league title five times before coming in to replace the former national team star Paulo Wanchope as coach.
He was able to navigate a difficult qualification despite a poor start but there are still concerns with the side stuttering after qualification was secured.
Ramirez prefers a 5-4-1 system with the two wide midfielders pushing on to support the lone striker in possession. It remains to be seen whether this is effective this summer in Russia.
Keylor Navas, Patrick Pemberton, Leonel Moreira
Cristian Gamboa, Ian Smith, Ronald Mattarita, Bryan Oviedo, Oscar Duarte, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Francisco Calvo, Kendall Watson, Johnny Castro
David Guzman, Yeltsin Tejeda, Celso Borges, Randall Azofeifa, Rodney Wallace, Bryan Ruiz, Daniel Colindres, Christiano Bolanos
Johan Venegas, Joel Campbell, Marco Urena
With three central defenders we will see Costa Rica look to play out from the back as they start their attacking phase. With most opponents only committing one or maybe two players to press the back line we should see Costa Rica manage to play through using their free player.
Here the initial pass is in front of the press out to the wide centre back which draws the pressing players across. This, in turn, frees the central player to receive the pass in space and look to turn and play forwards.
There are issues however with the three central defenders for Costa Rica, they do not possess great pace but still look to push their defensive line up to squeeze the play and make the pitch smaller.
This means that they can be easily beaten and turned by direct passes into the channels for players with more pace to chase. Against more tactically intelligent players this could well be where Costa Rica fall down in the tournament.
The Real Madrid goalkeeper is arguably the most underrated custodian in football. With his club side being continually linked to moves for the likes of David De Gea and Thibault Courtois while Navas simply goes about his business in a calm and professional manner. With his greatest supporter at club level. Zinedine Zidane, having left the club this summer Navas may face another uncertain off season. If he was to leave the European Champions though then there would be no shortage of sides interested in his services.
Perhaps slightly undersized for a top level goalkeeper he is exceptionally agile and has superb reflexes.
In Brazil four years ago Navas was one of the stand out players in the tournament, if Costa Rica are to perform as well this time around they will need their goalkeeper to be at the very top of his game.
Young Player to Watch
Perhaps not the most Costa Rican name out there but the 20 year old defender who plays for Norrkoping in Sweden is a player around which Costa Rica can build their defensive block for the next decade. Primarily a right back and perhaps a shade too small in height (5ft10) to play as a central defender Smith is quick and industrious playing from the right hand side.
He combines well in the attacking phase although there are still periods in which he can be caught out of position as his inexperience shows.
Since the last World Cup in Brazil the Arsenal forward has had loan spells with Olympiakos (Greece) Villarreal (Spain) Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) and Real Betis (Spain again) without ever showing signs that he was close to reaching his obvious potential.
Now, at 25, there are fears that Campbell may never reach the heights that were expected of him when he signed for Arsenal as a teenager. Campbell possesses electric pace and poses a real danger for opponents who will look to play with a high defensive line. He played arguably the best football in his career at Brazil 2014 and the people of Costa Rica will be hoping that he can repeat the trick this summer in Russia.