A nightmare scenario played out for Ticos on Friday morning during the World Cup draw. Only eight teams have ever won the World Cup, and Costa Rica will play three of those former champions in the group stage.
During the ceremony in Costa Do Sauípe, Brazil, FIFA selected the groups for the 32 World Cup qualifying teams. With so many good teams in the draw, we already figured that Costa Rica would face a Group of Death. But still the Ticos probably hoped for a simpler path than going through Uruguay, Italy and England.
The World Cup starts June 12 with a match between Croatia and host country Brazil. Costa Rica plays Uruguay first in the sweltering city of Fortaleza on June 14 before playing Italy and finally the English.
The United States also ended up in one of the tougher groups. They’ll begin their World Cup quest against the team that knocked them out in 2006 and 2010 – Ghana. The U.S. team then will challenge Portugal and Germany. The Germans remain one of the favorites to win the tournament. Portugal has the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo. He almost single-handedly carried the Portuguese into the World Cup with a hat trick against Sweden in the country’s final World Cup qualification game.
The United States and Costa Rica finished first and second in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but the other two teams in the region ended up with much easier groups. Mexico is in the same group as the host Brazil and weaker squads Cameroon and Croatia. Honduras, who still would make for a huge surprise in the second round, has at least a marginal chance for a win or tie against Ecuador, Switzerland and France.
Naturally, Costa Rica’s national team tried to play down the group. (The U.S. meanwhile seemed more glum about their draw, and the 9,000 miles the team must travel to play its three matches.)
Costa Rica’s head coach, Jorge Luis Pinto, said his team would not be intimidated. He told Repretel: “The braver the bull, the better the fight. … Costa Rica usually puts up its best game against big teams.”
Forward Joel Campbell wrote on Twitter that he was thrilled to have a chance to topple former world champions. Said Campbell: “Tell me who you beat and I’ll tell you the size of your victories.”
Goalie Keylor Navas told newswire EFE that he believes Costa Rica will have an advantage in the humid weather of Brazil: “We will have to adapt to that and tap the knowledge that we have of this type of climate.”
“There is no other group of three world champions,” said star striker Bryan Ruiz, on his official website. “So we want to leverage the positive part and confront three teams that have made history worldwide.”
He added: “The draw was beautiful and a surprise. It was a nice opportunity, and a very difficult group. It will be difficult to qualify for the second round, but the dream that all Costa Rican players on this team have is to transcend, to do well. We have to play three perfect games and that’s what we will prepare for.”
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla wrote on her Facebook page: “What an honor to play against three former world champions … Costa Rica is always rubbing shoulders with the giants. Let’s go boys!”
Tico fans reacted more negatively, with comments of “ay Dios” and “Adiós mundial.“
Uruguay, Italy and England own a combined seven World Cup titles. That said, Uruguay hasn’t won since 1950, and England won its lone title in 1966.
Currently, Uruguay ranks 6th in the world in FIFA’s rankings, Italy ranks 7th and England ranks 13th. Costa Rica brings up the rear coming in at 31st.
Costa Rica has never played the English. In Costa Rica’s only international match against Italy, the Italians won 1-0 in a friendly in 1995. The Ticos have never beaten Uruguay; they’ve lost six times and tied twice.
Of course, there are reasons to believe Costa Rican can pull off an upset or two.
The England squad is not as strong as past World Cup teams. After winning the World Cup in 2006, Italy failed to win a game in 2010 despite being the favorite in the group. Uruguay struggled to qualify in the tough South American region. Although in 2010, Uruguay struggled in qualification before beating Costa Rica in a playoff to win the final World Cup spot. Uruguay then went on a hot streak in the World Cup and finished 4th overall.
Here’s the schedule for the group stage matches in which Costa Rica will try to make history:
June 14, 1 p.m.: Costa Rica vs. Uruguay in Fortaleza
June 20, 10 a.m.: Costa Rica vs. Italy in Recife
June 24, 10 a.m.: Costa Rica vs. England in Belo Horizonte.
See the full schedule here: http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/matches/