Costa Rica

Population: 3,700,000
Area: 51,100 km²
Capital: San Josť
Language: Spanish

After almost messing up everything in the semifinal groupstage, Costa Rica won six of its last seven games in the Concacaf final group and qualified comfortably because of that.
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Participations: (1) 1990
Best placing: Second round 1990
Topscorers: Roger Flores, Ronald Gonzales, Juan Cayasso and Hernan Medford, 1 goal

Jun 04 - CRC v CHN  in Gwangju
Jun 09 - CRC v TUR  in Incheon
Jun 13 - CRC v BRA  in Suwon

Paolo Wanchope is an unpredictable leggy forward who has always been a reliable goalscorer for his country. He had success in the Copa America last year and the fans hope he can continue his form also on the greatest stage.

WCA VERDICT: First round exit
Costa Rica will probably challenge Turkey for that second spot behind Brazil. They were huge outsiders in 1990 as well - their only other appearance - and squeezed through then also in a group with Brazil, but not this time.


by Peter Goldstein

    Costa Rica was the revelation of the CONCACAF qualifiers. For many years, they were the most exciting but most erratic team in the region; now, under coach Alexandre Guiamares, veteran of the World Cup squad of 1990, they play with precision and control without losing any of their natural enthusiasm. (Now this is a modern coach -- he's got his own website! Check it out at www.aguima.com) They're still by nature an attacking team, but they know how to get a result as well, and they won the Hexagonal going away. The 1990 squad is still regarded with considerable affection, but with a settled lineup and a roster of experienced internationals, this looks like Costa Rica's best side ever.

    But there's a cloud over the team right now: striker Paulo Wanchope, their best player, has been struggling with a knee injury, and he may not be ready in June. A superbly skilled player with magical technique, he can play back to goal or come right at you, and can score breathtaking goals at any time. He'll be a big loss. More bad news on the striker front: Hernan Medford, one of the stars of 1990, still pacy and intelligent, is also doubtful with a knee injury.

    Fortunately, forward is Costa Rica's deepest position, and there are still two fine veterans in the pool. Rolando Fonseca is agile, an instinctive passer and finisher, and has scored more than 35 international goals. In the past he's played just behind the strikers, but recently has gone up top as well, with no loss of effectiveness. Then there's Ronald "The Bullet" Gomez, who plays for OFI Crete in Greece. He's a big man but surprisingly deft, with a great workrate and a powerful left foot, and can play withdrawn forward as well. Also in the picture now is new face Oscar Rojas, another mobile striker with good ball skills.

    Midfield is solid and deep. In Guiamares' 3-5-2, the lone defensive midfielder is Mauricio Solis, strong and a good tackler, who distributes well enough to play an effective role in attack as well. Two playmaking midfielders are veteran Wilmer Lopez and youngster Walter Centeno; although neither is a world-class number 10, both are consistent dribblers and passers who can score as well. Centeno tends to play from a bit farther back. If Wanchope is out, both might make the starting eleven. Right wingback should be Harold Wallace, a good tackler with lots of pace in attack, but only average technically. Carlos Castro, on the left, a veteran of Costa Rica's youth squads, has less speed but better technique.

    Defense isn't exactly the weak point; it just doesn't have the depth of the other areas. In the middle of the back line is Luis Marin; sometimes he'll play as a zonal marker, but other times he'll be a full-blown libero, moving up regularly to support the attack. At times he's vulnerable to speedy attackers. On the right is Reynaldo Parks, the captain: a good man-marker, he's solid and consistent without being spectacular. On the left is the most talented of all, Gilberto Martinez. With his long flowing hair, he's hard to miss: an aggressive and precise tackler and first-class marker. At times he can get a bit too aggressive and find himself out of position, but his natural skills usually allow him to recover. At 22, he's already one of the top defenders in the region. The best of the rest right now are Austin Berry on the left and Jervis Drummond on the right.

    The keeper is 36-year old Erick Lonnis, who recaptured his longtime starting role during the qualifiers. He's good but not great, and at times comes off the line a bit too far; on the other hand, he can be spectacular both in saves and clearances. Second choice is probably Alvaro Mesen; he's a good all-rounder, but Lonnis' experience figures to put him between the posts in June.

    CONCACAF isn't the strongest region around, and of course Costa Rica isn't as talented as Argentina. It's safe to say they won't win the World Cup. But they play Latin American football at its best: quick passes on the ground, with plenty of technique and lots of scope for individual flair. On their day, they can challenge any team in the world, and best of all, they seem to enjoy doing it. One more cautionary note: the team trainer says some of the players seem fatigued from too much action, and efforts to get Costa Rican clubs to cut down the schedule have been unsuccessful. Let's hope Wanchope and company are ready to go -- because if everyone's healthy and in form, they'll make a lot of new fans in Korea and Japan.


by Jan Alsos

    Few people gave Costa Rica hopes when they were drawn with Brazil, Sweden and Scotland for their only World Cup appearance in 1990. They proved to be made of sterner stuff than most experts thought after beating Scotland in their first game. A narrow defeat to Brazil came before Sweden was beaten after coming from behind in a decisive match. Even though they lost big against Czechoslovakia in the second round, the Costa Ricans more than justified their right to be at the World Cup which so many of the experts had doubted before the tournament.



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