After their surprise run to the quarter-finals four years ago, Costa Rica will need to exceed expectations again if they are to get out of a difficult Group E, which also features tournament co-favourites Brazil. Los Ticos are also competing against European duo Switzerland and Serbia for a place in the last-16.
Bryan Ruiz (Sporting CP)
Costa Rica finished top of their fourth-round group in the North American qualifying section with five wins and a draw from their six matches before successfully carrying their form into the final round too, where they remained unbeaten at home.
Los Ticos thrashed USA 4-0 in their home fixture, and then Marco Urena’s two goals in the reverse fixture saw them complete a double over the Americans. The latter win effectively sealed their place at Russia 2018, as they only actually took two points from their final three matches – Urena scoring a late equaliser against Mexico in the next game, Kendall Watson doing likewise against Honduras before defeat to Panama in the final game as Costa Rica finished second.
Costa Rica have qualified for three of the last four World Cup tournaments, with the last tournament also representing their best run in the finals as they reached the quarter-finals. They were eliminated in the group stage during both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Last time out, after springing a big surprise to top a group which had included Uruguay, Italy and England, Costa Rica went on to beat Greece on penalties in the second round after a 1-1 draw, before a goalless draw against the Netherlands was followed by a penalty shoot-out loss in the quarter-finals – spelling the end of their World Cup run.
Joel Campbell, one of Costa Rica’s unlikely stars four years ago, has declared himself fit for the World Cup having returned from nearly six months out of action to play for Real Betis from the start of April. Roland Matarrita has also returned to the New York City line-up recently, which means Costa Rica could be at full strength for the World Cup. Indeed, their final 23-man World Cup squad does not feature many surprises – Norkkoping defender Ian Smith is one of few inexperienced players heading to Russia.
Captain Bryan Ruiz is Costa Rica’s top goalscorer in the current squad, and the most-capped player – just ahead of Celso Borges in both lists, though some way behind the repective national records. Marco Urena has been in the goals for Costa Rica lately, meanwhile, with the winner in the friendly against Scotland, the late equaliser against Mexico in World Cup qualifying and both goals in the away qualifying win against USA. One of the most notable current exports, meanwhile, is Real Madrid’s highly-respected goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
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If Costa Rica are to cause a similar upset to four years ago, they are going to have to significantly their recent form, having won just twice since defeating USA in New Jersey in September – both against British opposition. Two draws, against Mexico and Honduras, helped them to their World Cup place despite losing the final qualifier to Panama 2-1. In the friendlies since, however, they lost three of their four matches without scoring a single goal. The only goal they did score was Marco Urena’s winner against Scotland in March, while they lost 5-0 to Spain, 1-0 to Hungary and 1-0 to Turkey in matches either side. A 3-0 win against Northern Ireland in San Jose restored some morale but Costa Rica’s warm-up matches ended with back-to-back defeats, 2-0 and 4-1, against England and Belgium respectively.
|1||Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)||31||81 caps||0 goals|
|18||Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense)||36||39 caps||0 goals|
|23||Leonel Moreira (Herediano)||28||9 caps||0 goals|
|2||Johnny Acosta (Rionegro Aguilas)||34||69 caps||2 goals|
|3||Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna)||30||70 caps||2 goals|
|4||Ian Smith (Norrkoping)||20||4 caps||0 goals|
|6||Oscar Duarte (Espanyol)||29||39 caps||2 goals|
|8||Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland)||28||44 caps||1 goal|
|15||Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United)||25||38 caps||4 goals|
|16||Cristian Gamboa (Celtic)||28||68 caps||3 goals|
|19||Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps)||30||26 caps||3 goals|
|22||Ronald Matarrita (New York City)||23||23 caps||2 goals|
|5||Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruna)||30||111 caps||21 goals|
|7||Christian Bolanos (Saprissa)||34||81 caps||6 goals|
|12||Daniel Colindres (Saprissa)||33||12 caps||0 goals|
|13||Rodney Wallace (New York City)||29||30 caps||4 goals|
|14||Randall Azofeifa (Herediano)||33||58 caps||3 goals|
|17||Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne Sport)||26||51 caps||0 goals|
|20||David Guzman (Portland Timbers)||28||43 caps||0 goals|
|9||Joel Campbell (Betis)||25||77 caps||15 goals|
|10||Bryan Ruiz (Sporting)||32||110 caps||24 goals|
|11||Johan Venegas (Saprissa)||29||47 caps||10 goals|
|21||Marco Urena (Los Angeles FC)||28||64 caps||15 goals|
Though they made the quarter-finals last time out, Costa Rica are not expected to enjoy similar success this time – not least considering their recent form.
A return of one win in six games is hardly the momentum-building run into the tournament they will have hoped for ahead of the World Cup, and with a tough group containing Brazil, as well as Switzerland and Serbia who are expected to challenge for second place, it is little surprise to find Costa Rica as 4/6 favourites with Bet365 to finish bottom of Group E.
Los Ticos are just 1/5 with Bet365 to exit the tournament at the group stage, compared to a massive 20/1 to replicate their run to the quarter-finals of four years ago.
Costa Rica were the surprise package at last year’s tournament and were just a penalty shoot-out away from reaching the semi-finals. They should not be written off, but once again they are in a difficult group and the odds are pointing towards a group-stage exit.
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Complete list of 32 teams participating in World Cup 2018 and their Group Predictions