Costa Rican football’s biggest names – Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruíz, Celso Borges, and Joel Campbell – have been called upon to take on two former world champions in coach Óscar Ramírez’s debut. The new head coach announced his first 23-man lineup for the friendlies against Brazil and Uruguay at a Thursday news conference.
The biggest surprise is the glaring omission of forward David Ramírez, the 22-year-old who often looked like Costa Rica’s most lethal offensive weapon under Paulo Wanchope. Coach Ramírez said Thursday that the Saprissa striker was left off the team for the friendlies because of a suspension stemming from the Mexico loss in the Gold Cup quarterfinals. However, the player figures to return when “La Sele” begins World Cup qualifying matches in November.
Óscar Ramírez selected Daniel Colindres, the Saprissa teammate of David Ramírez, to fill the void at forward next to proven commodities like Campbell and Álvaro Saborío.
The 50-year-old head coach also called up three players from his former club Alajuelense who were not included on the Gold Cup roster: forward Ariel Rodríguez, midfielder Ronald Matarrita and defender Johnny Acosta.
“After these friendlies we’re going to continue fine tuning the lineup,” Ramírez said. “But for now we have a base that we can fall back on.”
Everton starter Bryan Oviedo will return to the national team after a long layoff with multiple injuries that saw the star defender miss the 2014 World Cup. The 25-year-old Oviedo is likely to start right away next to Giancarlo González and Cristian Gamboa in a backfield that was criticized under Wanchope for allowing too many goal-scoring opportunities. Now potentially matched up against the world’s best scorers, like Brazil’s Neymar and Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani, the revamped defense will get an early litmus test before qualifying play starts.
After skipping the Gold Cup, Navas will take some time away from Real Madrid to help defend against two of the best frontlines in the world.
The new selection leaves for the United States on Monday in preparation for its Sept. 5 game with Brazil at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. La Sele will then come back home to play a friendly against Uruguay at the National Stadium.
On Thursday, officials from the Costa Rican Football Federation (FEDEFUTBOL) also announced two more friendlies scheduled for October when La Sele will take on South Africa at home and then travel back to the U.S. to take on the United States men’s national team on Oct. 13.
Federation Secretary General Rafael Vargas said in a statement that if National Stadium does not fill up for the Sept. 8 friendly against “La Celeste” then Costa Rica will play South Africa at Saprissa’s stadium in Tibás, just north of the capital.