Costa Rica: Joy RideBy: Juan Mesa
HOW DID THEY GET HERE: Costa Rica finished second in CONCACAF’s qualifiers after winning all their home games, including victories against region giants United States (3-1) and Mexico (2-1). Los Ticos were good visitors as well, losing only against Honduras and United States. The qualification coincided with the opening of their national stadium, arguably the best soccer venue in all of Central America.
BIGGEST STRENGTH: The Ticos are a joyful squad, grounded by studious coach Jorge Luis Pinto. The attacking trio is special: Bryan Ruiz provides the classy touch; Joel Campbell adds speed; and Real Salt Lake’s Álvaro Saborio—who will be playing his second World Cup—knows how to score. The goal is also well protected by Levante’s Keylor Navas, one of the best goalies in La Liga during last season.
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: Costa Rica will not have one of their best players, Bryan Oviedo, in Brazil due to an injury. The team will miss the capacity of the Everton full-back for connecting the offensive and defensive lines.
WORLD CUP CHANCES: Coach Pinto, a Colombian native, prepared himself for 30 years to get to the World Cup... just to see his team land in Group D along with the mighty England, Italy and Uruguay. It seems like extremely bad luck for the Ticos, but three soccer clichés could come in handy: anything is possible in a soccer match, the games have to be played first, and a World Cup is—first and foremost—about the beauty of the game.
FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Costa Rica reached the Round of 16 in its first World Cup, Italy ’90. That team was very similar to the current one: it had an outstanding goalkeeper in Luis Gabelo Conejo, and the attackers Juan Cayasso, Hernán Medford and Claudio Jara were impressive. Costa Rica was also strategic in winning local fans as coach Bora Milutinovic picked the colors of the Juventus for their second jersey when they played Brazil in Turin. They lost 1-0, but certainly won the Juve’s tifosi.
IF THEY WERE A SONG, IT WOULD BE: “Time to Pretend” by MGMT.