Costa Rica (The Ticos)
Quarter Finalists: 1 (2014)
Round of 16: 1 (1990)
Group Stage: 3 (2002, 2006, 2018)
Current FIFA Ranking: 31
Luis Fernando Suarez
Group E Schedule
Game 1 – Wednesday 23rd November 2022
19:00 Qatar Time/16:00 GMT
Al Thumama Stadium, Doha
Game 2 – Sunday 27th November 2022
13:00 Qatar Time/10:00 GMT
Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Game 3 – Thursday 1st December 2022
22:00 Qatar Time/19:00 GMT
Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Regarding honours, Germany are the most outstanding European national team of all time. They have won four World Cups (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014) and been runners-up a further four times, and hold a joint record (with Spain) of three European Championships (1972, 1980, 1996). They have also won the Summer Olympics Gold Medal (1976) and the Confederations Cup (2017).
Beginnings and Early Promise
Costa Rica’s national team goes back to 1921 when they won the Independence Centenary Games, a one-off tournament between the Costa Ricans, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to celebrate 100 years of Central American independence from Spain. They did not enter the first five World Cups between 1930 and 1954. Known as the Gold Shorties throughout the 1940s, they were the second strongest side in CONCACAF after Mexico in the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, they were edged out by the Mexicans in qualification for the 1958, 1962 and 1966 editions. A sign of their strength at the time is that they won the inaugural CONCACAF Championship (later renamed the Gold Cup) in 1963, being victorious by two points in the final group stage. Indeed, they took third place in the same tournament two years later, then followed this up with another title as hosts in 1969, winning the final group stage by a single point.
Costa Rica then took third place in the 1971 CONCACAF Championship. However, a period of diminishment followed for much of the next twenty years as other teams from the CONCACAF zone rose in prominence. Indeed, Costa Rica failed to qualify for the 1973, 1977 and 1981 editions of the CONCACAF Championship. This was a bitter blow considering how well they had begun when the tournament was in its infancy. They also failed to qualify for all World Cups between 1970 and 1986, making no real impact. They did finish third in the 1985 CONCACAF Championship, but due to generally poor performances regionally, it appeared as though Costa Rican football was in terminal decline.
Knockout Stage in First World Cup
However, in 1989 Cosa Rica suddenly won their third CONCACAF Championship. They won the trophy by the slimmest of margins, by one goal through goal difference in the final group stage, edging out the United States. Perhaps more importantly, the tournament doubled as CONCACAF qualification for Italia ’90 (it had been serving as World Cup qualification for years at that point). Therefore, after 60 years, including eight consecutive failures to qualify, Costa Rica were to make their bow at the World Cup. In the first game against Scotland in Genoa, forward Juan Cayasso gave them a shock 1-0 victory, which is still a source of pain in Scotland to this day. Then they lost narrowly to Brazil, but they rescued a victory in the final match versus Sweden. Two late goals from captain Roger Flores and substitute Hernan Medford cancelled out Johnny Ekstrom’s opener for the Swedes. Suddenly, Costa Rica had qualified for the round of 16 in their first World Cup. In the knockout game against Czechoslovakia, the Czechs took the lead before Ronald Gonzalez equalised just before the hour mark. However, three goals after the hour dispatched the Costa Ricans. Still, it had been a brilliant tournament for Costa Rica and their proudest moment as a football nation to date – particularly as the players were primarily non-professionals. There was much optimism, pride in the team, and genuine hope they could continue improving.
Italia ’90 Hangover Followed by Better Times
Despite finishing fourth and third, respectively, in the 1991 and 1993 Gold Cups, Costa Rica could not qualify for the next World Cup, USA ’94. Indeed, they then failed to qualify for the 1996 Gold Cup too. It appeared as if all the excellent work of 1989 and 1990 had been for nothing or, worse, had been a one-off. 1998 saw a return to the Gold Cup for a group-stage finish. However, again they failed to qualify for the World Cup, narrowly missing out on third place in the Hexagonal to qualifiers Jamaica in the final round.
Though the twentieth century had been relatively disappointing on the world stage for the Costa Ricans, the twenty-first century has seen marked improvement. They have not won the Gold Cup in this period, but they have reached at least the quarter-finals 12 consecutive times, including semi-final berths in 2003, 2009 and 2017 and a runners-up place to the United States in the 2002 edition. There has also been much success in World Cup qualification, as Costa Rica have qualified for five of the six tournaments since 2002, with South Africa 2010 being the only blemish.
Indeed, the 2002 squad contained such Costa Rican legends as midfielder Walter Centeno (who accumulated 137 caps and 24 goals), and forwards Rolando Fonseca (all-time leading goalscorer with 47 goals), and Paolo Wanchope (who played for Derby Country, West Ham United and Manchester City, and is arguably Costa Rica’s greatest ever player). They beat China 2-0 in the first game. However, a draw with Turkey and defeat in the final match to Brazil saw them depart after the group stage, meaning they could not repeat 1990’s heroics. They returned in 2006, losing 4-2 to hosts Germany in the opening game. Further defeats to Ecuador and Poland followed, and they exited the tournament without gaining a single point. They came very close to qualification again in 2010 but lost the inter-confederation play-off 2-1 on aggregate to Uruguay. However, Costa Rica’s best moment was to arrive four years later.
The Heroics of 2014 and Invoking its Spirit in 2022
In Brazil in 2014, led by coach Jorge Luis Pinto, Costa Rica had many good players. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas, defenders Oscar Duarte and Cristian Gamboa, midfielders Celso Borges and Yeltsin Tejeda, forward Joel Campbell, and irrepressible attacking midfielder and captain Bryan Ruiz formed a strong team which hoped to do well. Indeed, they amazingly came back from 1-0 down to beat Uruguay in the first game in Fortaleza, with three second-half goals cancelling Edison Cavani’s first-half goal. They then shockingly beat Italy in the second game, in what has become known as one of Costa Rica’s greatest results. A goal from Ruiz followed a controversial moment where Campbell was denied a penalty. Having now advanced to the knockout stage, a goalless draw with a hapless England side sealed their place as group winners.
In the round of 16, a Ruiz goal against Greece opened the scoring in the 52nd minute, but Duarte’s dismissal put the team on the back foot. Greece eventually found a way through in stoppage time after many crucial saves by Navas. Navas continued to make saves in extra time. However, the match went to penalties, with Navas saving Greece’s fourth kick before Michael Umana sealed Costa Rica’s place in the quarter-finals. They had achieved their best-ever performance at the World Cup but still wanted to go as far as possible. The quarter-final against the Netherlands was a drab, rough game that finished goalless and went to extra time again. In the 120th minute, Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal replaced goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul. Krul went on to save penalties from Ruiz and Umana to eliminate the Costa Ricans. Despite this disappointment, it had been an electrifying tournament for them, and many of their players went on to better things at club level after the competition. It left a great legacy in Costa Rica, with a boon in tourism and sporting interest in the years since.
Costa Rica could not repeat 2014’s heroics in 2018, finishing bottom of a group also containing Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia. However, their rise to prominence at the World Cup has been remarkable in this century, and nobody back home can complain. They come to Qatar cautiously optimistic. Qualification ultimately went well, but they are grouped with powerhouses Spain and Germany and are therefore expected to fall at the first hurdle.
Road to Qualification
CONCACAF Third Round Group: 4th Place
Record: Played:14 W:7 D:4 L:3 F1:3 A:8 GD:+5 Points:25
Inter-confederation play-off: Costa Rica 1-0 New Zealand
Date of Qualification: 14th June 2022
Costa Rica had a bye to the third round of CONCACAF qualifying – the Octagonal, where eight teams play each other twice, and the top three qualify automatically. Fourth then enters an inter-confederation play-off. Costa Rica ultimately became this team who finished fourth. It was a challenging section for them, but they ultimately came close to qualifying automatically. They started slowly, accruing only three points from the first twelve. A win over El Salvador in San Jose eased tensions in the fifth game, but this was followed by defeats to the United States and Canada. Costa Rica now only had six points from a possible twenty-one and struggling somewhat. However, wins at home to Honduras and Panama, an impressive draw in Mexico City, and then a 1-0 win in Jamaica courtesy of Joel Campbell improved matters.
A 1-0 win at home to Canada followed by a 2-1 win in El Salvador in the penultimate game solidified the Costa Ricans’ impressive form and guaranteed their place in the inter-continental play-off. They entered the final match against the United States still with a chance of automatic qualification. However, it required a big victory (and a Mexican loss in their game) which they could not obtain. Still, a 2-0 win against the Americans was an excellent way to round off the section. Joel Campbell scored a third-minute winner in the single-leg play-off in Qatar against OFC side New Zealand, so Costa Rica became the final nation to qualify for the tournament. It had been a hard slog, but the six wins from seven games in the group’s second half had essentially got them to Qatar. They can take great confidence from submitting spirited performances in some Octagonal games against fellow qualifiers Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
Meet the Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez (age 62)
A defender in his playing days, Colombian Suarez retired in the mid-90s following fifteen years playing in his homeland for Atletico Nacional and Deportivo Pereria. His most significant achievement as a player was winning the Copa Libertadores in 1989 with Nacional. His first job in management was also with Nacional, where he won the Categoria Primera A (Colombian Premier Division) in 1999. From here, he managed around Colombia before joining Aucas of Ecuador in 2003. A year later, his biggest break yet arrived when he became coach of the Ecuador national team. He led Ecuador to their best-ever finish in a World Cup in 2006, a narrow second-round defeat to England. However, the following year Ecuador performed poorly in the 2007 Copa America. Things continued to go south for Suarez until he was sacked in 2007 during a poor qualification run for South Africa in 2010.
Suarez nomadically coached around North, Central and South America for the next fourteen years before becoming Costa Rica coach in the summer of 2021. From here, he achieved most of what is described above in qualifying. He has a very focused outlook and will know the monumental task his side are up against with powerhouses Germany and Spain in their group. However, if Costa Rica can progress from the section at one (or both) of Germany of Spain’s expense, it could go down as an even greater achievement than the quarter-final place in 2014.
Possible Starting XI and Style of Play
Suarez has many options at his disposal, and none better than in goal. Former Real Madrid goalkeeper and multiple Champions League winner Keylor Navas will start there, assuming he is fit. Esteban Alvarado will deputise. Suarez mixes it up between three at the back and four but, presuming he plays a four, he is likely to choose the very experienced Oscar Duarte and Francisco Calvo at centre-back. Juan Pablo Vargas and Kendall Watson are further options. At fullback, Costa Rica have good choices, too, with Keysher Fuller and Bryan Oviedo going forward to provide impetus in attack. Oviedo is well-known to Sunderland and Everton fans. There is extensive experience in midfield too, where defensive midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda is supplemented by Celso Borges and captain and talisman Bryan Ruiz. Between them, the three have over 350 caps at international level. Brandon Aguilera, Gerson Torres, and Daniel Chacon are good backups.
In attack, options are also plentiful, and it remains up in the air if Joel Campbell will start, being in and out of the side in qualification. If he does, he will play alongside fellow forward Anthony Contreras and winger Johan Venegas. Campbell’s experience and goal record may well get him a spot in the team. Another exciting option includes 18-year-old left winger Jewison Bennette. Bennette is new to the scene but may well make the side due to his youthful zest. Indeed, he is one to watch. Suarez is likely to play an organised style but still with a license to create. The likes of Oviedo, Ruiz, Borges, Venegas, and Bennette will be amongst the entertainers if Costa Rica can cause an upset in Qatar.
Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas, Esteban Alvarado, Patrick Sequeira.
Defenders: Francisco Calvo, Juan Pablo Vargas, Kendall Waston, Oscar Duarte, Daniel Chacon, Keysher Fuller, Carlos Martinez, Bryan Oviedo, Ronald Matarrita.
Midfielders: Yeltsin Tejeda, Celso Borges, Youstin Salas, Roan Wilson, Gerson Torres, Douglas Lopez, Jewison Bennette, Alvaro Zamora, Anthony Hernandez, Brandon Aguilera, Bryan Ruiz.
Forwards: Joel Campbell, Anthony Contreras, Johan Venegas.
Date and Place of Birth: (15.12.1986, San Isidro de El General)
Current Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Navas is still a crucial player and leader for Suarez. At age 35, he is currently at PSG in France, where he is embroiled in a battle with young Italian Gianluigi Donnarumma for the number one spot. He has been commended for his fantastic reflexes, agility and shot-stopping ability, and he is competent at playing out from the back, with good distribution. His ability to make saves is highlighted by the numerous ones he made against Greece in the round of 16 match in 2014. It kept Costa Rica in the game and allowed them to qualify for the quarter-final after he also made a penalty save in the shootout. He was later nominated for the Golden Glove award for the best goalkeeper. His performance in the 2014 tournament prompted Real Madrid to sign him, and he became one of the world’s best goalkeepers during five years in which he won three UEFA Champions League trophies. His experience and dependability will be paramount for Suarez in Qatar..
Date and Place of Birth: (27.05,1988, San Jose)
Current Club: Alajuelense
The son of former Costa Rica player and coach Alexandre Guimaraes, Borges is a veteran of the 2014 and 2018 editions, playing in all eight games across both tournaments. Hence, he has surpassed what his father achieved for the national team by qualifying for the 2014 quarter-final and becoming Costa Rica’s record appearance holder. A talented musician, Borges is best known to European audiences for his time in Spain with Deportivo La Coruna. A technically gifted playmaker and passer, he can also do the dirty work in midfield and has an eye for goal, having scored 27 goals for the national team. His experience and know-how will be vital for Suarez in Qatar.
Date and Place of Birth: (18.08.1985, San Jose)
Current Club: Alajuelense
Best known to European viewers for his time with FC Twente, Fulham and Sporting CP, Ruiz is now, like Navas, in the veteran stage of his career, but he remains as important as ever as one of the greatest Costa Rican players of all time. Indeed, with 29 goals, he is the fourth-highest scorer ever for the national team. Like Navas and clubmate Borges, Ruiz played in all eight games across Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018. A very silky player, he has a wand of a left foot, great passing ability both long and short and can still dribble even at his age. He will be expected to provide much of the creativity for the Costa Ricans, and the onus is on him to help the team score goals while they try to stay solid at the back. Ruiz is the captain and one of Costa Rica’s leaders. As a result, he is crucial to anything good they do in Qatar.