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FIFA World Cup 2022

Costa Rica: Five players to watch

Costa Rica booked their place at the finals after squeezing past New Zealand in the sides’ intercontinental play-off.

This will be the Central Americans’ third straight FIFA World Cup campaign.

A number of the standout performers from the 2014 edition remain part of the current squad.

 

Over the past two decades, Costa Rica have been virtual ever-presents at the global showpiece, only failing to make the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ during this period,

Los Ticos are set to grace the biggest stage for the third finals in a row. Luis Fernando Suarez’s charges face an equally tough test to the one they passed with flying colours at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, where they did battle with Uruguay, England and Italy in the so-called ‘Group of Death’.

This time round, the Costa Ricans will come up against Spain, Germany and Japan and their followers will be hoping for a repeat of the team’s 2014 showing, in which they topped a star-studded group comprising the aforementioned trio of World Cup winners and went on to reach the quarter-finals, where the fairy tale ended following a shoot-out defeat to the Netherlands.

Article and photos used with permission by FIFA. 

Matchup Date Time (ET) TV
Costa Rica @ Spain Wednesday, November 23 11:00 AM FOX
Costa Rica @ Japan Sunday, November 27 5:00 AM FS1
Germany @ Costa Rica Thursday, December 1 2:00 PM FS1

Eight years on from that unforgettable feat, many of the core members of that squad are now preparing to light up the latest edition of the global showpiece in Qatar. The Central Americans displayed immense character and determination to ultimately clinch a place at the finals after it looked like they would miss out following an entirely forgettable first half to their Concacaf qualifying campaign.

However, a dramatic upturn in fortunes in the second round of games, which brought an impressive 19 points from a possible 21, resulted in the team securing a play-off berth, with the quintet we profile below all playing a massive part in that success.


Keylor Navas

Position: Goalkeeper Age: 35

The undisputed hero of Costa Rican football and one of the biggest names in the history of the game in Central America, Keylor Navas’s heroics between the sticks at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ earned him a dream move to one of the most illustrious clubs on the planet.

‘San Keylor’ played his part in a historic era at Real Madrid and was instrumental as Los Blancos captured three UEFA Champions League crowns and four FIFA Club World Cups. However, Thibaut Courtois’ consistent performances for the club led Navas to seek pastures new and he joined the ambitious project at Paris Saint-Germain.

Keylor Navas dazzles at Brazil 2014

 

If we were in any doubt as to Navas’s worth, the comments made by Panama coach, Thomas Christiansen, whose team came up against the legendary keeper during qualifying, offers a timely reminder: “Without Keylor, Costa Rica simply wouldn’t be in the play-offs. He earned them many points and was a key player for them. In the game against us, he denied us seven or eight times when we created good chances.”

Despite now being 35, Navas is still one of the best goalkeepers in the game. An icon in his homeland, fans of the national team revel in his gravity-defying saves and are happy to place their dreams in one of the safest pair of hands in world football. Navas was again in inspired form in the showdown against New Zealand and will need to be at his very best if Los Ticos are to repeat their 2014 showing in a group that pits them against two former World Cup champions.


Bryan Ruiz

Position: Midfielder Age: 37

Qatar 2022 will be the final hurrah of a dazzling career and the reward for a Costa Rican ace who was made to bide his time before getting the chance to strut his stuff on the global stage. Ruiz failed to make the squad for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, before suffering the heartbreak of the USA’s last-gasp equaliser in the final game of the qualifying campaign for the 2010 edition in South Africa and the subsequent defeat to Uruguay in the play-offs.

Sixteen years on from missing out in 2006, Ruiz is the national team’s most-capped player and lies fourth in the nation’s all-time scoring charts with 29 goals to his name. While he was a late arrival to the global football extravaganza, the most talented player ever produced by Costa Rica has been rewarded for his admirable patience. He exacted revenge at Brazil 2014 by hitting key goals in the meetings against Italy and Greece.

Bryan Ruiz Goal 43′ | Italy v Costa Rica | 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™
Watch every single goal from the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

 

Now, at the ripe old age of 37, and having lost some of the pace of his earlier days, Ruiz remains a classy performer who boasts excellent vision and an eye for goal. Despite his ability as a formidable attacking force, the talented schemer is certainly not one to shirk his defensive responsibilities.

Now back on native soil after plying his trade across Europe during stints with Belgium’s Gent, Dutch sides Twente and PSV, Fulham and Portugal’s Sporting CP, before a spell in Brazil with Santos, Ruiz is now treating the fans of Alajuelense, the club where it all began for him, to his considerable talents in one final swansong.

While the country sets about planning a grand farewell for their midfield maestro, their national coach has revealed that Ruiz is the only man assured of a spot in his squad for Qatar 2022. “He deserves it as a reward for all he’s done for our country and how he has represented our people,” Suarez explained. “When it comes to working hard for the team, he’s top of the list. He’s a tremendous player. If there’s one person who has shown what it means to love Costa Rica, it’s Bryan Ruiz.”


Joel Campbell

Position: Forward Age: 30

Campbell is a sharpshooter with a handy knack of scoring goals when it matters most.

Despite failing to hit the heights he was widely expected to achieve when European football’s powerhouses battled it out to secure the services of Central American football’s jewel in the crown, Campbell has a special relationship with the national team. The frontman always delivers when he turns out for Los Ticos, regardless of his club form. He burst on to the scene as a bright young thing as a member of the golden generation and has subsequently gone on to establish himself as a true national icon.

Joel Campbell Goal 53′ | Uruguay v Costa Rica | 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™
Watch every single goal from the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

 

A part of the historic squad that raised eyebrows in Brazil, the pacey front runner notched the team’s first goal in that memorable campaign to level the scores in the curtain-raiser against Uruguay. Despite having lost some of the electric pace that allowed him to burst past defenders in one-on-one situations, he has developed an improved tactical awareness to become the focal point of the team’s attack. While he previously operated on the wing, he is now equally at home in a central berth.

Campbell bagged three goals during the qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 and his effort against New Zealand booked Los Ticos’ spot in the finals. Having plied his trade in France, Spain, Greece, England, Portugal and Italy, he currently turns out for Mexico’s Club Leon following a loan spell at CF Monterrey. After only just managing to make the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ having battled his way back to fitness following a knee injury, Campbell looks set to head into this tournament in tip-top shape.

The frontman’s 117 caps have yielded 25 goals and coach Suarez is fulsome in his praise of his attacking ace, saying: “I previously only knew Campbell as a player, but I now like him more as a person than as a player.” Ahead of the Qatar showpiece, the talented goal-getter fired a warning shot to opposition defenders. “At 30,” he said, “I’ve got a pretty decent level of experience now and this will be my third World Cup. I’m enjoying my football and am feeling stronger with every game.”


Celso Borges

Position: Midfielder Age: 34

Another key member of the core of veterans who lit up Brazil 2014, Borges offers real balance.

While Ruiz brings bags of talent to the table, his midfield team-mate contributes in all areas of the pitch. Despite now getting on in years and having been dogged by injury in recent months, he still remains a potent physical force.

The Alajuelense midfield master possesses an impressive array of tools that allow him to contribute in all facets of the game: he works hard to recover possession, initiates many of the team’s attacks and provides a threat in the opposition’s box. Having featured 153 times, he is Los Ticos’ most-capped player and his 27-goal haul places him two strikes behind Ruiz and a couple ahead of Campbell.


Jewison Bennette

Position: Forward Age: 18

The latest budding talent to come off the Costa Rican production line, Bennettee heads up a group of youngsters who are tasked with succeeding the members of the golden generation set to call time on their international careers after Qatar 2022.

The flying winger features amongst a set of starlets that includes Manfred Ugalde, Christopher Nunez, Patrick Sequeira, Alonso Martinez and Anthony Walker. Bennettee is the golden boy of that bunch though; his eye-catching performances have seen him compared to a fresh-faced Joel Campbell, and he has enjoyed more of the limelight than any of his up-and-coming colleagues.

Bennette was the team’s star man in the play-off showdown against New Zealand and was untouchable down the left flank, where he showcased all of his talent, tricks and audacity to wreak havoc. The jet-heeled winger makes the most of any spaces afforded by opposition defences to create chances for others.

On the back of his stellar display against the Kiwis, in which he provided the assist for Campbell to net the decisive goal, he secured a move to Sunderland, who currently compete in the second tier in English football. This explosive player has certainly got what it takes to announce himself on the world stage in Qatar.

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