The 2018 World Cup is just over a month away, and all 32 teams are preparing in earnest for their shot at the trophy in Russia. ESPN FC is previewing every team ahead of the opening game on June 14. All 32 teams here.
To qualify for their trip to Russia next month, the Ticos (Costa Rican) won their group with 16 points to advance to CONCACAF’s Hexagonal phase. In their first game of the round, they defeated Trinidad & Tobago, and days later scored a resounding 4-0 win over the United States.
La Sele’s (Costa Rica’s National Team) first loss came in their next game against Mexico, and they earned just two points in ensuing draws against Honduras and Panama. But in their final five games of the Hexagonal, Costa Rica again defeated Trinidad & Tobago and the U.S., virtually punching their ticket to Russia. The Ticos finished in second place with 16 points despite not winning any of their last three games in the final round.
Defense, first and foremost, is the team’s biggest strength. Costa Rica had the second-best unit of the Hexagonal, allowing just eight goals. Kendall Waston, Giancarlo Gonzalez and Johnny Acosta showed a good level of play throughout the qualifying round. And the case could be made that the true strength of team coach Oscar Ramirez’s back half lies in his “wall,” as Keylor Navas is considered one of the world’s best goalkeepers.
On their weaknesses, there is a consensus that, despite the 14 qualifying goals, the Ticos need a natural center-forward. Joel Campbell just returned to action in Spain after rehabbing an injury, and Marco Ureña underwent surgery to repair broken bones in his face sustained in an April collision. Both risk arriving in Russia with some rust to knock off.
La Sele’s biggest weapon is Keylor Navas, without question. Playing for Real Madrid, Navas is also the leader of the Costa Rican World Cup team and any shot at advancing out of the group stage will be tied to his performances.
The Ticos’ biggest accomplishment is being among the 32 teams that will participate in the tournament since almost nobody in Costa Rica can imagine repeating the feat from four years ago: Losing on penalty kicks to Holland in the quarterfinals is the consensus among the sports media in Costa Rica.
The same media and sports experts in the country predict the Ticos, that sit in Group E with Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland, will be contenders for the second spot, but if they wish to advance it’s imperative they win their matchups against Switzerland and Serbia. On paper, Brazil are virtually assured a berth in the round of 16.
In case Costa Rica reaches the knockout stage, they could face defending champion Germany or CONCACAF rival Mexico.
With files from ESPN Global