Can Costa Rica be the dark horse on the international stage again?
If a true dark horse exists at this summer’s Copa America Centenario, it very well could be Costa Rica. With a solid core of seasoned players on the team, Los Ticos have the quality to make a run. What’s more, they now have a developing pedigree, too.
Two summers ago, these very same Costa Ricans stunned the World Cup, booking a quarterfinals spot in Brazil. And Los Ticos didn’t feast on lesser nations to accomplish the feat. No, Costa Rica faced a daunting Group D draw against the likes of Uruguay, Italy and England, nations that have all won a World Cup. And all Costa Rica did was win their group outright.
With captain Bryan Ruiz pulling the strings and Keylor Navas patrolling in goal, Los Ticos made an improbable trip to the quarterfinals before eventually falling in penalties to the Netherlands. But the notice had been served: Costa Rica would no longer be an easy out.
Heading into the Copa America Centenario, the Costa Ricans that surprised at the World Cup largely return to the team. Sporting CP’s Ruiz and Real Madrid’s Navas headline the returning cast, alongside D.C. United’s Alvaro Saborio, who boasts 35 international goals - good for third all time in Costa Rica history.
At age 23, Arsenal’s Joel Campbell also provides a rare combination of experience and youth, having featured in the World Cup. Blessed with an abundance of attackers, Costa Rica have another ace in the hole with 26-year-old Marcos Urena. If Alvaro Saborio’s age finally catches up with him — he is 34, after all — Urena has already showed the ability to link up with Campbell.
There are causes for concern when it comes to Costa Rica, however. Los Ticos followed up their World Cup run with a paltry start to 2015, going winless until September. A poor showing in the Gold Cup had fans rightfully worried. Since their Gold Cup quarterfinals loss, though, Los Ticos seem to have regained their mojo. They closed out 2015 with four straight wins, and sit atop their World Cup 2018 qualifying group with 10 points.
Now, two friendlies await Costa Rica ahead of their Copa America Centenario opener against Paraguay on June 4, which should give fans an idea how manager Oscar Ramirez plans to position his side. Given the task ahead of him when the tournament commences, Ramirez will likely lean on his experienced players early. Drawn into Group A with the United States, Paraguay and Colombia, it looks like Costa Rica will battle the former pair for second in the group, with Colombia the sure favorites.
Of course, Los Ticos found themselves facing similar odds in Brazil, and look what they accomplished.
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