Costa Rica

Population: 4,000,000
Area: 51,100 km²
Capital: San José
Language: Spanish

Costa Rica finished third behind USA and Mexico in CONCACAF's hexagonal final round and thereby occupied the final direct spot to the World Cup in that region.
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Feb 11 Costa Rica v South Korea 1-0
Mar 01 Iran v Costa Rica 3-2
May 28 Ukraine v Costa Rica 4-0
May 30 Czech Rep v Costa Rica 1-0

Participations: (2) 1990 and 2002
Best placing: Second round 1990
Topscorer: Ronald Gomez, 2 goals

Jun 09 - CRC v GER  in Munich
Jun 15 - CRC v ECU  in Hamburg
Jun 20 - CRC v POL  in Hannover

- Costa Rica in Group A -
Jan Alsos: 4th place
Pierre Boisrond: 4th place
Ruud Doevendans: 4th place
Mike Gibbons: 4th place
Peter Goldstein: 3rd place
Paul Marcuccitti: 3rd place
Felipe Santos: 4th place
PREDICTION: First round exit


by Peter Goldstein

    Last cycle Costa Rica had the best team in their history. They breezed past Mexico and the USA in the qualifiers, getting an historic win in the Azteca. At Korea/Japan they beat China, came within inches of knocking Turkey out of the competition, then went right at Brazil and played them even for an hour. Had they drawn an easier group, we might remember the ticos as one of the great revelations of the tournament.

    Four years on, they have the same coach, Alexandre Guimaraes, and several of the same players. But it’s not really the same team. A couple of key figures are gone, and others are closer to the end of their careers. In 2002 they were wide open attackers, devotees of the jogo bonito. Now they’re more cautious, more solid, with less flair and extra grit. And, it has to be admitted, less quality. In the qualifiers they finished a clear third behind the USA and Mexico, and might not have made it at all if Guimaraes hadn’t replaced Jorge Luís Pinto during the Hexagonal. But this time the luck of the draw is with them, and don’t be surprised if they contend just as fiercely for a second-round spot.

    The first question for Guimaraes is whether to try his beloved 3-5-2, or settle for a more defensive 4-4-2. He no longer has the midfield dazzle--Wilmer Lopez, the star playmaker of 2002, retired from international play--and the latter looks more probable. The best and best-known defender is centerback Gilberto Martínez (Brescia), with several years under his belt in Italy. He’s a fine natural talent, with pace, power, aggressiveness, and ball skills. But in some ways more important is his partner, celebrated veteran Luis Marín (Alajuelense), who by the time the tournament starts will have over 120 caps. He’s never been a speedster, and at 31 may have lost an extra step, but he’s a fine man-marker, good header, and great battler. As he goes, so goes the back line.

    Assuming it’s four at the back, the left back should be Leonardo González (Herediano). He’s big and mobile; although he’s been known to get forward at times, his strength is in defense. A more attacking option would be Roy Miller (Bodo Glimt), a long-legged strider, probably better as a wingback. On the right the battle should be between Harold Wallace (Alajuelense) and Jervis Drummond (Saprissa). They’re similar players: lively, good pace, ordinary skills. Wallace is more experienced at this level, and perhaps more reliable, but Drummond is more likely to do something memorable. He’s also the more likely to join Marín and Martínez if it’s three at the back.

    In the midfield much will depend on Walter Centeno (Saprissa), the team’s one true playmaker. He’s never quite fulfilled his promise as a number 10: although he’s clever and skilled, very good on the ball, he tends to dribble too much and slow down the action. Also crucial will be the form of anchorman Mauricio Solís (Comunicaciones). He’s of Marín’s generation, with over 100 caps himself, a hard tackler and marker who can also provide the incisive pass. But at 33, he may be too old to excel at this level. If he can’t make the grade, the most likely replacement is Danny Fonseca (Cartaginés), tidy and intelligent, a good tackler. An interesting choice would be Randall Azofeifa (Saprissa), more of a linkman than an anchor, an excellent passer, almost a deep-lying playmaker.

    Who fills the other midfield spots depends on how aggressive Guimaraes wants to play it. The swingman is Ronald Gómez (Saprissa), one of the stars of 2002, who will play either striker or midfielder. A left-footer, he combines size, technique, and a powerful shot. If he’s in midfield, it means Costa Rica are going for goals. The other man would then most likely be either Cristian Bolaños (Saprissa) or Carlos Hernández (Alajuelense). Bolaños is a big hard-charging right-sided attacker, a little rough technically. Hernandez is more versatile, a smooth two-way man who can play just about anywhere in midfield, and has a lethal long-distance shot. If Gómez is up front, both will probably play.

    That brings us to striker, where all eyes will be on Paulo Wanchope (Herediano). In his prime he was a wonder to behold, with marvelous ball skills and invention, a magic man with a magic plan. As late as 2004 he seemed as brilliant as ever, mesmerizing opponents in the semifinal qualifying round. But then he lost his starting job at Malaga, and went quickly downhill, unable even to get first-team play in Qatar. Now he’s returned to the domestic league, hoping to get fit for a last chance on the world stage. He’s still only 29, and if he finds his form, can carry the team.

    If Gómez plays striker, Wanchope will probably play as a centerforward, with Gómez in a slightly withdrawn role. If Gómez plays midfield, the second striker will probably be Álvaro Saborio (Saprissa), a centerforward himself, which would shift Wanchope outside somewhat. Saborio is the kind of player who doesn’t seem to be doing anything until you find he’s put the ball in the net. He scored some excellent goals in the qualifiers; the question is whether he has World Cup quality.

    Right now the keeper looks like José Francisco Porras (Saprissa). He’s pretty good on his line, occasionally a little slow coming out. He’s being challenged by Álvaro Mesen (Herediano), the 2002 second string, more likely to make the outstanding save but also more prone to mistakes.

    Costa Rica are one of the most consistently underrated teams in the world. Before Italia ’90 they were completely ignored, whereupon they beat Scotland and Sweden, and threw a scare into Czechoslovakia before succumbing. Four years ago they were again pegged as minnows, but Turkey were lucky not to take the first plane home. Now once more the pundits are giving them little chance. But none of their Group A opponents are world-beaters, and Germany is likely to be nervous in the curtain-raiser. There’s no reason Costa Rica can’t contend in this group. We’d be lying if we said they were as good as four years ago. But the ticos are tremendous battlers, and have enough skill players to cause trouble for anyone. And here’s a stat for you: Costa Rica have played six group stage games at the World Cup, and the only team they’ve lost to is Brazil. If they make the second round, don’t say you weren’t warned.




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