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Sunday, May 12, 2024

Costa Rica returns with full-strength lineup in last step toward World Cup qualifying

To beat the best, you better bring your best.

For one of the first times under Óscar Ramírez’s regime, the Costa Rican national football team will have all of its top players available as they try to clinch a spot in the 2018 World Cup. In less than two weeks, Costa Rica will begin the final stage of CONCACAF’s World Cup Qualifying, known as the Hexagonal.

La Sele will first travel to Trinidad & Tobago on Nov. 11 before coming back home to take on the United States at the National Stadium on Nov. 15 to kick off the first part of the six-team round robin.

Ramírez announced his lineup at a Wednesday press conference at the Costa Rican Football Federation’s (FEDEFUTBOL) headquarters, listing the who’s who of Costa Rican football. Led by star goalie Keylor Navas, captain Bryan Ruíz, and midfielder Celso Borges, the lineup is as healthy as ever.

As usual, Ramírez’s selection includes a heavy reliance on defenders, with nine of the 23 call-ups being defensemen. Of course, the return of Navas will dominate headlines, but beyond the Real Madrid keeper lies proof of a strong overall lineup that should help La Sele get off to an important 2-0 start in the Hexagonal’s first stage.

Though the midfield will lack normal starters Giancarlo González and Óscar Duarte, and on paper looks to be the weakest part of this selection, there are still plenty of other players to rely on who have already played big minutes. Wingers Bryan Oviedo and Cristian Gamboa also give the team big-game experience, while Ramírez favorites such as Kendall Waston and Ronald Matarrita have proven their worth within “El Profe’s” five-man backline.

During his press conference, Ramírez mentioned how important it will be to counter Trinidad & Tobago’s speed in transition plays. Young Matarrita, though often defeated in one-on-one matchups, excels in transition by turning defense into immediate offense. He’s a sort of defense/midfield breed that acts as this team’s funnel and becomes invaluable for setting up plays against teams such as Trinidad & Tobago that want to rely on speed.

In the second leg, against a United States team that embarrassed La Sele 4-0 in June, it will be key for Costa Rica’s experienced midfield to impose its will on the U.S. and its historically shaky middle. Ruíz and Borges are the known commodities here, but they were also the two biggest culprits of atrocious play in Chicago. Those two leaders, along with the suddenly revived 32-year-old Christian Bolaños, will look to dictate pace against the U.S. in a section of the field where Costa Rica has the talent edge.

Another recently injured player who could have an impact going forward is striker Ariel Rodríguez. After missing June’s Copa América because of injury, the longtime Saprissa star, who’s now playing in Thailand, could provide this team with some much-needed consistency on offense.

Like Rodríguez, another potentially interesting addition is Rodney Wallace. Though it’s been four years since Wallace last competed for La Sele in a World Cup qualifying match, the forward who plays his club ball in Brazil could inject some life into an attack that too often seems passive with normal starters Marco Ureña and Joel Campbell.

Full 23-man roster below with clubs in parenthesis:

Goalies: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense), Esteban Alvarado (Trabzonspor)

Defensemen: Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Bryan Oviedo (Everton), Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ronald Matarrita (New York City FC), Francisco Calvo (Saprissa), Johnny Acosta (Herediano), Jose Salvatierra (Alajuelense), Michael Umaña (Alajuelense)

Midfielders: Pablo Salazar (Herediano), David Guzman (Saprissa), Randall Azofeifa (Herediano), Celso Borges (Deportivo de La Coruña), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Christian Bolaños (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Forwards: Rodney Wallace (Sport Recife), Johan Venegas (Montreal Impact), Joel Campbell (Sporting Lisbon), Ariel Rodriguez (Bangkok Glass), Marco Ureña (Brondby)

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