Despite having to face three former World Cup champions in Group D – Uruguay, Italy and England – La Sele (Costa Rica’s national team)  players are optimistic regarding what their team could accomplish in Brazil.

Since May 12, when Coach Jorge Luis Pinto picked his preliminary 30-man roster, players and coaches have been analyzing their opponents in preparation for the team’s first World Cup since 2006. Like all teams heading to Brazil, Pinto’s final, 23-man roster is due to FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, by June 2.

President Luis Guillermo Solís with Costa Rica's national team, La Selección or La Sele.
President Luis Guillermo Solís (bottom row in suit and tir) with Costa Rica’s national team, La Selección or La Sele.

“We have been watching videos and studying the other teams,” Paulo Wanchope, Costa Rica’s assistant coach, said about the team’s World Cup preparations. “We have also asked some players to review matches and study their rivals well. We hope the team’s overall performance will improve both in defense and in attack.”

Costa Rica, which is ranked 34th in this month’s FIFA’s rankings, will open group play on June 14 against sixth-ranked Uruguay in Estádio Castelão in Fortaleza. The Ticos will then face 9th-ranked Italy on June 20 in the Arena Pernambuco in Recife. Costa Rica closes group play against 11th-ranked England in Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte on June 24.

The Ticos is putting much of its hope of advancing to the knockout phase on defeating Uruguay.

“Uruguay is a tough and aggressive side, but maybe we can use [their aggressiveness] against them, which is what we are focusing on,” Pinto said. “We are a well-balanced team, confident on the playing field.”

The opening match will also be a tough one for Uruguay, especially considering its top scorer, Luis Suárez, underwent a knee operation on May 22 and may miss the game.

Uruguay’s most important match is the one against Costa Rica, and I’m not just saying that in deference to Costa Rica,” Mario Rebollo, Uruguay’s assistant coach, said. “The first match is important for any number of reasons, and one of them is the potential strength of the Costa Rican side.”

Though Uruguay defeated Costa Rica in a two-game playoff for a berth in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Central Americans are a more experienced team, Rebollo added.

Costa Rica also will need the experience of its players that compete for international clubs, according to Pinto.

Pinto highlighted Joel Campbell’s excellent season with the Greek team Olympiacos, where he was named among the Greek “Ideal Eleven” with eight goals and nine assists.

Bryan Ruiz, a striker for Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, notched five goals and was vital in his team’s qualification for the UEFA Europa League.

Moreover, Keylor Navas, who plays goalie for Spain’s Levante, heads the list of the five best keepers in the Liga BBVA, with 150 saves in 37 matches.

Mario Kempes, a former Argentine forward and World Cup champion in 1978, said despite the tough road facing the Ticos, the team is capable of getting through group play.

“Costa Rica has a tough job ahead of them, but that doesn’t mean they will be knocked out, not by any means,” Kempes said in a National Football Union (UNAFUT) conference in San José on May 18. “Coming up against three former world champions can be a good thing.”

Kempes said the Ticos showed good form in CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying and has the ability to beat any of the major sides. Costa Rica registered five wins, three draws and two losses, scoring 13 goals and allowing seven, finishing second behind the United States.

In recent friendly matches, Costa Rica lost 1-0 to Australia on Nov. 19 but beat Paraguay 2-1 on March 5.

“The preparation and performances have been positive,” Costa Rican fan Erick Fernández, a 21-year-old mechanical engineering student at Costa Rica University, said. “The result against Australia wasn’t a good one, but we had more players available for the match against Paraguay and we fared much better.”

On May 30, the Ticos will travel to the United States to play Japan in the city of Tampa in the state of Florida on June 2, and Ireland in Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania on June 6, in its final two warm-up matches before the World Cup.

“I really want to see this team play in the World Cup. Really, I can’t wait to see Costa Rica against these rivals,” Pinto in an interview on the radio program Sin Tregua. “We’re going to give it all we’ve got – blood, sweat and tears – whatever it takes to do well in the championship.”

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