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World Cup 2014 Guide: Costa Rica

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A wee Central American country that Scots are more familiar with than we perhaps ought to be, Costa Rica are a nation with some remarkable footballing success given their size. This year will be their fourth trip to a World Cup finals, and despite the astronomical odds of them winning the tournament, they will be out to make an indelible mark on the competition against some of the big boys.

Costa Rica’s footballing history

Despite being a small country, Costa Rica has had a wealth of success in international football. They have won the CONCACAF Championship three times, in the inaugural event in 1960, on home soil in 1969 and in the final tournament before it was rebranded the Gold Cup in 1989.

With their Championship victory the year before, Costa Rica made their first World Cup appearance in 1990 and despite a strong group featuring Brazil, Scotland and Sweden they qualified for the last 16 in 2nd place. They lost there to Czechoslovakia, but took pride in the fact that they were the first Central American or Caribbean team to make it past the first round since Cuba in 1938.

Costa Rica came close to providing a shock in the group stages in 2002, finishing in 3rd place in their group on goal difference just behind Turkey, who eventually won the bronze medal, and Brazil, who won the competition. A comfortable win against debutants China was followed by a 1-1 draw against the Turks before a 5-2 defeat to Brazil. Costa Rica held the distinction of being the only team to have scored more than once against the Brazilians in 2002.

The most recent appearance of Costa Rica in the World Cup was in Germany in 2006, where they finished bottom of a group including the hosts. With heavy defeats to Germany and Ecuador they were eliminated before their final match against Poland, which they also lost 2-1.

Scotland v Costa Rica

In a result that is ingrained in the collective memory of the Tartan Army, Scotland lost their only encounter against Costa Rica in the 1990 World Cup – a result that kept us from our first ever round of 16 appearance. Despite being massive favourites, and knowing a win would get us off to a good start towards qualifying, we went down 1-0 to a 49th minute strike by Juan Cayasso. Scotland went on to win against Sweden in our next game and lose narrowly in our final game against Brazil, meaning that even a point from our game against Costa Rica would have been enough to secure a last 16 place.

Costa Rica’s road to the finals

Costa Rica began their qualification campaign in Round 3 of CONCACAF’s process, in a group along with Mexico, El Salvador and Guyana. They comfortably finished 2nd, with their only defeats at the hands of Mexico.

In the final round, the “Hexagonal”, they really came in to their own with a very impressive 2nd place finish rewarded with an automatic berth in the World Cup. They had the best defence in the group, conceding only 7 goals in 10 matches. No team came away from capital San Jose with any points. It was a sterling effort considering the strength of CONCACAF’s top teams, the USA and Mexico.

Costa Rica’s key players

The bulk of the Costa Rican squad comes from their own leagues, with a few more from the MLS. Star striker Bryan Oviedo will miss the World Cup after breaking his leg while playing for Everton’s FA Cup tie with Stevenage back in January.

Costa Rica isn’t short of players to lead the line though. Bryan Ruiz, a 28 year-old striker who spent three seasons at Fulham before going out on loan to PSV Eindhoven last season where he had more success. Alvaro Saborio is a veteran of the side, with 93 caps and a goal to game ratio for is country better than 1 in 3.

Keeper Kaylor Navas will also be a big player for Costa Rica, as they come up against good attacking sides. He has helped Levante to have as many clean sheets in La Liga this season as both Real Madrid and Barcelona and is rumoured to be a summer transfer target for Monaco.

Costa Rica’s group

Costa Rica are the ‘other’ team in what is certainly one of the ‘Groups of Death’ in the World Cup. Costa Rica face Uruguay on the 15th of June (8pm, ITV), Italy on the 20th (5pm, BBC) before their final group game against England on the 24th (5pm, ITV). I’m sure that many in the Tartan Army would like to see Costa Rica get a few points in at least one of their games, but it seems unlikely that they’ll manage to put up much resistance to such strong sides.

Prediction

I’m afraid that Costa Rica’s fate in this World Cup was sealed when the names of their opponents came out of the hat in the draw, but an early exit might be tinged with some pride if they can improve upon their 2006 efforts and get a result that goes against the form book. And if there’s one thing we know about Costa Rica, it’s that they can pull off an upset to dent another country’s World Cup hopes.

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About Author

Steven Kellow is a Ross County fan currently exiled as a student in Aberdeen. Aside from following the Staggies and Scottish football in general, he takes an interest in the more obscure and abstract features of the beautiful game: analysing football history, competitions and the side of football off the pitch. Enjoys writing about a range of topics apart from football too. He can actually understand BBC Alba commentary also.

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