The FIFA 2022 Qatar World Cup is finally upon us after a long four years and 4-month or, in other terms, 227 weeks or 1589 days of wait.
The 211 participating nations in qualifying have now been narrowed down to the final 32 for the biggest competition in sport.
World Cup qualification looked almost impossible last year for Los Ticos, having picked up just six points from the first seven games in qualifying. However, coach Luis Fernando Suárez decided to change things around, bringing in several younger players to the team, which brought a remarkable turnaround of fortunes, with 19 points out of a possible 21 from the last seven games and meant an intercontinental play-off against New Zealand was confirmed.
The 1-0 victory in the play-off match in June, thanks to an early Joel Campbell, secured World cup qualification. And meant for the first time in history, Costa Rica has qualified for three consecutive World Cups (sixth one overall).
This tournament will be the final swansong on a glorious national career for long-serving campaigners Keylor Navas, Celso Borges, and Bryan Ruiz, all of whom have been central figures of La Sele over the last decade and will go all down as legends of Costa Rican football.
And they will be joined by an array of World Cup first-timers in Jewison Bennette, Brandon Aguilera, Anthony Contreras, Daniel Chacón, Roan Wilson, Álvaro Zamora, Anthony Hernández, Juan Pablo Vargas, and Rónald Matarrita amongst others. Who will all be desperate to write their own World Cup stories.
The man behind the team, coach Luis Fernando Suárez, has plenty of World Cup experience, having previously coached Ecuador and Honduras at the 2006 and 2014 editions.
Fernando Suárez’s defensive-minded tactics divide opinion among fans, his style can be difficult to watch, even boring at times, but he does bring results.
His Costa Rica team does not score many goals (13 in 14 games), but they concede even fewer (8 in 14 games). And six of Costa Rica’s seven wins in qualifying were by one-goal margins (we will settle for that at the World Cup!)
Having given debuts to 22 players in 15 months (11 of them in qualifiers). And in total, played a remarkable 77 players during his tenure, Fernando Suárez has finally seemed to settle on a favored line-up.
Expect a defensive and compact set-up with two sturdy banks of four. Talismanic goalkeeper Keylor Navas is vital to any success, and key defenders Óscar Duarte and Francisco Calvo provide a strong central defense pairing, with the hardworking Yeltsin Tejeda offering a protective shield in front of them.
Going forward, the team will rely on set-pieces and speedy counterattacks. Utilizing the distribution skills of midfielder Celso Borges and striker Joel Campbell to unleash the pace of youngsters Jewison Bennette and Anthony Contreras.
To reach the knockout phase for this particular tournament will be the most difficult challenge yet for these Tico players, having been drawn in the “Group of Death” alongside 2 former World Cup winners in heavyweights Germany and Spain, as well as the invariably difficult Japan.
Costa Rica are also the lowest-placed country in their group at 31st in the world rankings. With Japan ranked 24th, Germany 11th, and Spain 7th. And with just the top two sides advancing to the round of 32, La Sele will likely need to achieve at least 5 points to progress. A daunting prospect against such high-quality opponents.
Against superior footballing nations, Fernando Suárez’s organized approach is Los Tico’s greatest chance of progressing in the tournament, but for that to transpire, the players will have to perform at their optimum, with a bit of luck along the way. We can dream, right?
A true underdog story that evokes memories of the historic 2014 tournament. When La Sele, against the odds, topped a group with Uruguay, Italy, and England and reached the quarter-finals before heartbreakingly losing to the Netherlands on penalties.
Let’s hope history can repeat itself, and whatever happens, we have a thrilling few weeks ahead. Vamos La sele!
First up is Spain on Wednesday, with kick-off at 16:00 AST.