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Thursday, June 1, 2023

6 questions for Costa Rica before tonight’s World Cup tune-up against Ireland

Costa Rica has one last chance to fix the team’s mounting issues prior to the World Cup. “La Sele” plays the Republic of Ireland at 6 p.m. tonight (8 p.m. EST) in Philadelphia. The men’s national team is coming off a disastrous performance — a 3-1 loss to Japan in Tampa, Florida — on Monday that exposed many of Costa Rica’s weaknesses after the speedy Samurai Blue ran all over La Sele.

The Ticos enter PPL Park looking for some consistency and confidence boosting before heading to Brazil, where they’ll face three of the top-ranked squads in the world. Costa Rica opens the tournament against Uruguay on June 14 at 1 p.m., and also takes on Italy and England in Group D.

Costa Rica must provide resoundingly positive answers to these questions versus the Irish tonight:

1. Can Joel Campbell get going?

Campbell must direct the Tico attack all by his lonesome after top goal scorer Álvaro Saborío broke a bone in his right foot last week. The 21-year-old has heaps of talent, and he’s carved up defenses before as the sole forward in coach Jorge Luis Pinto’s lineup (most notably in Costa Rica’s 3-1 qualifying victory over the United States last October). But the Japanese neutralized him  and the rest of the offense earlier this week. A Campbell goal could spur an attack that has few options.

2. Will the defense look better?

It’s hard to imagine the center of the defense looking any worse after Japan sliced and diced them Monday. The defense is supposed to be the strongest unit on the field for Costa Rica, after allowing a CONCACAF-low seven goals in qualifying. Pinto plans to shake up the lineup to see if a reserve can step up to the challenge better than his starters did. Roy Miller, the defender who struggled the most against Japan, won’t start in the Ireland match.

3. How will Keylor Navas respond after a loss?

The talented Spanish League goaltender enters the World Cup in great form. It’ll be interesting tonight to see how he bounces back from a harsh loss. The three goals given up Monday were more the fault of defensive errors than Navas’ keeper skills. Moreover, the goalie made some fantastic saves to keep the match closer than it should’ve been. Still, this was a deflating loss for Costa Rica, and the stoic Navas will need to put the experience behind him quickly.

4. Which Junior Díaz will appear on the field?

Díaz always had been an underachiever on the national team. However, the 30-year-old was the lone stand out for the defense against Japan — namely due to his offense. The right back assisted on Costa Rica’s goal after relaying a perfect centering pass to captain Bryan Ruiz. Díaz, who might not have made the team if star defender Bryan Oviedo hadn’t broken his leg, will try to prove his earlier performance was no fluke.

5. Can the reserves do anything?

Pinto will bench a few of his starters to take a look at his subs against Ireland. Defenders Óscar Duarte and Heiner Mora have moved into the starting lineup along with midfielder José Miguel Cubero and forward Marco Ureña. A strong performance doesn’t necessarily guarantee one a starting position in the World Cup, but any one these guys could end up key role players for La Sele if they play well in Philadelphia.

6. Can Costa Rica win?

We can’t call this a must-win because the match is still merely a World Cup warm-up. Group D rival Italy just tied lowly Luxembourg on Wednesday, and the Italians are still favored to win the group (Italy also struggled to a scoreless draw with Ireland on May 31). But morale appears low for La Sele after losing Saborío a week ago and then falling to Japan in the most recent friendly. Nothing lifts the spirits better than a victory.

Despite the European opponent, this is a game Costa Rica should take. The Irish failed to qualify for the World Cup, and ranks 70th in the world — its lowest position ever (Costa Rica is 28th). The team is led by Robbie Keane, one of the most prolific European goal scorers in international soccer history. But the past-his-prime Irishman shouldn’t be enough to topple the Ticos. There’s no excuse for a repeat of the Japan match here, and no excuses will be necessary if Costa Rica can simply get the win.

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