Group E: Costa Rica hope to channel the spirit of 2014

The tiny nation won the hearts of millions four years ago and looks as strong again

Costa Rica (500-1)

Who are they?

Costa Rica is a country roughly the same size and population of Ireland and yet they are no strangers to World Cups. This will be their fifth appearance, following on from their 2014 heroics in reaching the quarter-finals where they lost out in a penalty shootout to Holland. Keylor Navas, Bryan Oviedo and Joel Campbell are some of their more well-known current players and, of course, who could forget Paulo Wanchope back in the day?

Recent friendly defeats have not instilled much confidence with losses to the likes of Hungary and Tunisia among them as well as a 5-0 hammering at the hands of Spain.

World Cup moment

Four years ago the Central American country shocked the world by topping a group from which no one gave them a chance of progressing. Wins over Uruguay and Italy before a draw against England gave them seven points from three World Cup heavyweights and the heroics didn’t stop there. A penalty shootout win over Greece in the last 16 saw them into the quarter-finals where they drew 0-0 with Holland before losing out on penalties largely due to the heroics of Tim Krul in the Dutch goal.

How did they get here?

In dramatic fashion. After an up-and-down qualifying campaign which included 4-0 and 2-0 victories over the United States it came down to the wire for Costa Rice and they sealed their place with a 95th-minute equaliser from Kendall Watson in the penultimate game against Honduras.


The gaffer

Oscar Ramirez – the former midfielder who played 75 times for his country – took over the post as manager in 2015 after Paulo Wanchope left following a post-game fight. The 53-year-old failed in his quest at the 2017 Copa America with Costa Rica going out in the group stages but they had no such struggles in World Cup qualifying. A tight, organised 4-5-1 suits a team that are not overflowing with flair.

The main man

It’s not too often that the main player is a goalkeeper but, give the fact that he is the Real Madrid No 1, Keylor Navas certainly occupies that spot for Costa Rica. The netminder’s strong showing in 2014 engineered his move to Zinedine Zidane’s side and the 31-year-old will need to be at his very best again this time around.

The one to watch

Marco Ureña is a striker who plies his trade for Los Angeles and has proven himself to have a knack for scoring important goals in a Costa Rica jersey. His brace against the USA in September was crucial in both Costa Rica qualifying and the United States missing out and he then also scored a key equaliser against Mexico five days later.

The verdict

Costa Rica are a team well capable of a shock and this year their group is considerably easier than the one they faced in 2014. While they have a very real chance of reaching the last 16 it will take something very special for them to go any further.

The squad

Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Patrick Pemberton (LDA), Leonel Moreira (Herediano).

Defenders: Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ian Smith (Norrkoping), Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Johnny Acosta (Aguilas Dorados).

Midfielders: David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne), Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruna), Randall Azofeifa (Herediano), Rodney Wallace (NYCFC), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Daniel Colindres (Saprissa), Christian Bolanos (Saprissa).

Forwards: Johan Venegas (Saprissa), Joel Campbell (Real Betis), Marco Urena (LAFC).