YOUR FINALS GUIDE: GROUP E COUNTING THE COST
Bryan’s boys shook up world but this time it’s tougher
BRYAN RUIZ admits it will be a lot tougher for Costa Rica to shock the world all over again.
Four years ago in Brazil the Central Americans – known as Los Ticos – came within a penalty shootout of reaching the semi-finals after a stunning run of performances. Their dream was eventually ended by Holland in the last eight but they were still one of the stories of the tournament. Somehow they managed to top a group that included Uruguay, Italy and a dismal England who finished bottom with just a single point to their name.
Greece were next. Sokratis Papastathopoulos’s injury-time equaliser took the match into extra time after Ruiz had fired his team in front. Costa Rica, down to 10 men for almost an hour after Oscar Duarte’s red card, scored their first four spot-kicks. Theofanis Gekas missed for Greece and Michael Umana settled the tie.
That meant a first ever World Cup Quarter-Final and while Holland could not beat them in regular time, a penalty shootout ended their incredible campaign.
But the exploits of the boys of
2014 have raised expectations back home this time ahead of Group E games against Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland.
Former Fulham forward Ruiz,
32, is still his country’s talisman with 101 caps and 23 goals to his name – including two at the 2014 World Cup against Italy and Greece.
And he said: “We aren’t going to catch anyone by surprise at this World Cup, we know that.
“It was a fantastic experience for the country in Brazil last time and the fact it was a bit unexpected made it even better. When we were drawn in a group with England, Italy and Uruguay – of course we knew that it was going to be very hard to qualify.
“Any of those teams could have gone a long way – so to finish top was amazing and to see England finish bottom with just a point was a big surprise.
“The 0-0 draw in the third game against England may not have been the best match but we came top of the group.”
The game was a dead rubber for Roy Hodgson’s men after England’s losses to Italy and Uruguay – but after shock wins over Uruguay and Italy, Costa Rica had the opportunity to top Group D, which the dull stalemate ensured they did.
Ruiz added: “Then, of course, we came within a penalty shootout of reaching the semis, beating Greece in the last 16 and then losing to Holland. Sometimes you just get a really good squad of players and a togetherness.
“We had that in Brazil and it changed my life personally.
“But everyone knows it will be even harder to do well in Russia. The squad is different and older and we have had some mixed results in the recent friendlies.
“Our performance four years ago raised expectations back home and, as everyone knows, that can create difficulties.
“We are in there with Brazil this time, and it will be an honour going up against the likes of Neymar – we will respect them, but will try to play without fear. It will be very tough.
“On paper you might think we are trying to get second place with Switzerland and Serbia but then we all remember what happened last time.
“You never know what can happen.”
Costa Rica kick-off their campaign against Serbia next Sunday followed by tournament favourites Brazil and then a potential decider against Switzerland.