Costa Rica’s national team, “La Selección or Sele”, were one of the major surprises of the 2014 World Cup and will head to Russia in 2018 with largely the same team of players after qualifying from the CONCACAF region.
Little was expected of La Sele, known around the world as the ‘Ticos’, in Brazil after they were drawn in a group with Uruguay, Italy and England. But under the guidance of Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto, the Ticos topped the standings and went on to beat Greece in the round of 16 on penalties, then knocked out by Netherlands in their first ever quarter-final appearance that ended goalless, then coming up short on penalties.
A Costa Rican national team had never gotten this far in a World Cup, their best show up to then had been in the 1990 World Cup in Italy, making it to the round of 16. The Ticos also played in group stage in the 2002 and 2006 world cups.
Much of the credit for that historic run was given to coach Pinto, who shortly after left the team amid controversy following complaints of the players on his style of coaching. Pinto moved on to Honduras, a team that was a hair away from qualifying for 2018.
The Ticos won their way to Russia 2018 with a match to spare after earning a last-gasp 1-1 draw at home against Honduras and their former coach.
Current coach Oscar Ramirez, has continued the work of molding this young team that beat Italy 2014 and crushed the United States national team during the qualifying campaign, 4-0 in San Jose and then 2-0 in New Jersey, costing the U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann his job.
The Ticos finished second in the CONCACAF qualifying, behind Mexico. Panama qualified for the third berth for the 2018 World Cup, their very first time to the big show.
Going into Russia next June, the core of the team which beat Italy and Uruguay in Brazil is still in place with Keylor Navas in goal, Bryan Ruiz, Christian Bolaños, Cristian Gamboa, Bryan Oviedo, Celso Borges, Óscar Duarte and Giancarlo Gonzalez at the back. There is a good chance that Campbell, winner of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup will be fully fit by June.
Names to look for a possible game changer for the Ticos in 2018 are Kendall Waston and Rónald Matarrita.
According to the FIFA bio on the team, “the Costa Ricans are clear favourites to win a place at Russia 2018 (…) are a tactically astute side that plays a high-tempo game and has the ability to switch systems in response to match situations.”