Joel Campbell, Celso Gamboa and Óscar Duarte highlight Costa Rica’s roster for the upcoming Central America Cup. The Ticos will play their first post-World Cup match on September 3 against the region’s worst team, Nicaragua.
Nine players from the La Sele squad that reached the World Cup quarterfinals will participate in the tournament. The biggest star will be Campbell who made his debut for English Premier League powerhouse Arsenal over the weekend.
Interim head coach Paulo Wanchope announced the roster Monday morning. Costa Rica will play Nicaragua in Washington D.C. to open the Central America Cup. The Ticos then take on Panama on September 7 in Dallas, Texas.
In addition to Campbell, two other regular starters in Brazil — midfielder Borges and defender Duarte — will take part in the regional tournament. (Duarte, who plays in Belgium, also is returning to Costa Rica to face an accusation that he threatened a security guard with a pistol at a bar in Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula back in 2012).
The roster also includes five players who received limited playing at the World Cup: Marco Ureña, José Miguel Cubero, Roy Miller, Johnny Acosta and Dave Myrie. Back-up goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton also is on Wanchope’s list.
The most interesting name on the roster perhaps is one player who didn’t go to Brazil: goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado.
Alvarado, who’s a top goalie in the Dutch league, will return to Costa Rica’s national team for the first time in three years after having a falling out with the squad. Alvarado abandoned the team before two friendly matches in November 2011. Then-head coach Jorge Luis Pinto banned Alvarado from La Sele for his decision to disappear without warning.
The pair did reconcile right before the World Cup, but it wasn’t enough to earn Alvarado a spot with the Ticos. Alvarado will compete with Pemberton for the chance to replace goalkeeping star Keylor Navas.
Last month, Pinto had his own nasty split with the Costa Rican Football Federation (FEDEFUT). The fallout was highlighted by the Colombian coach accusing assistant Wanchope of betraying him. Pinto said Wanchope tried to have him fired during World Cup qualifying.
FEDEFUT and Wanchope — perhaps the greatest player in Costa Rican history — took a lot of heat from fans for the way the organization parted with the coach who led the Ticos to their best performance ever at the World Cup. The pressure will be on for Costa Rica to avoid disaster at the Central America Cup in the team’s first matches without Pinto. The team will enter the tournament with its highest FIFA ranking ever: 15th in the world.
Wanchope is just a temporary solution at head coach as FEDEFUT searches for a veteran foreign coach to take over the team later this fall. While most of the World Cup squad will be absent, he’ll at least have top striker Campbell at his disposal.
The forward debuted as a sub for Arsenal in the club’s 2-2 tie with Everton on Sunday (Campbell also scored in a an exhibition match in July). However, Arsenal management still consider the 22-year-old a work-in-progress, and apparently felt comfortable letting Campbell get some more practice in via the Central America Cup.
The rumor mill also says Italy’s AC Milan is eyeing Campbell as a possible replacement for star striker Mario Balotelli, who just completed a $26 million move to Liverpool.
If Costa Rica makes the final of the tournament, the match would be the same day as Arsenal’s clash with top Premier League club Manchester City on September 13. So it looks like Arsenal don’t consider Campbell ready for primetime just yet, though he seems on the verge of a breakthrough with the club. In the mean time, he’ll try to build on his country’s World Cup success during next month’s tournament.
Central America Cup roster:
GOALKEEPERS: Esteban Alvarado (AZ), Patrick Pemberton*, Kevin Briceño.
DEFENDERS: Dave Myrie*, Juan Diego Madrigal, Óscar Duarte (Brugge)*, Pablo Salazar, Porfirio López, Johnny Acosta*, Cristopher Meneses (Norkkoping), Roy Miller (Red Bull)*.
MIDFIELDERS: José Sánchez, Juan Bustos Golobio, Manfred Russel, David Guzmán, José Miguel Cubero (Blackpool)*, Celso Borges (AIK)*, Johan Condega and Rodney Wallace (Portland).
FORWARDS: Johan Venegas, Joel Campbell (Arsenal)*, Marco Ureña (Kuban)*, Jonathan Moya, David Ramírez and Armando Alonso.
* = Member of Costa Rica’s 23-man World Cup roster