- World Cup Spe­cial - Team Tico

What Are Their Chances?

Howler Magazine - - Featured Contents - by El­liott Al­mond

We asked El­liott Al­mond, a sports­writer who covers soc­cer for Cal­i­for­nia’s Bay Area News Group, to review Costa Rica’s past and present pur­suit of World Cup glory. El­liott has been all over Costa Rica, is friends with Mar­cos Ureña, speaks pretty good Span­ish and cheers in his heart when the Ti­cos are play­ing.

Costa Rica had a promis­ing World Cup fi­nals de­but in 1990 in Italy, where the Ti­cos de­feated Scot­land and Swe­den to ad­vance out of group play with Brazil. But Cze­choslo­vakia elim­i­nated Costa Rica 4-1 in the first stage of the knock­out rounds.

Costa Rica didn't re­turn to the tour­na­ment un­til 2002, where it again drew Brazil in group play. It lost to the South Amer­i­can pow­er­house and drew against Turkey but was un­able to ad­vance. Four years later, the Ti­cos lost all three group games, in­clud­ing one with even­tual cham­pion Ger­many.

The team failed to ad­vance to the 2010 fi­nals in South Africa. But ev­ery­thing fell into place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

No one gave Costa Rica a chance when draw­ing world cham­pi­ons Uruguay, Italy and Eng­land in 2014's “Group of Death.” How­ever, it won the group with vic­to­ries over Uruguay and Italy and a score­less draw against Eng­land.

Costa Rica ad­vanced to the quar­ter­fi­nals, los­ing in a penalty shootout 4-3 to highly re­garded Nether­lands.

Chances in Rus­sia

It's go­ing to be dif­fi­cult for No. 25-ranked Costa Rica to du­pli­cate its stun­ning per­for­mance in Brazil four years ago. Few give the Ti­cos much chance of reach­ing the knock­out rounds from Group E, where they will play Ser­bia, Brazil and Switzer­land.

“You never know,” said mid­fielder Ani­bal Godoy, who helped Panama qual­ify for its first World Cup fi­nals. “They have so much ex­pe­ri­ence for this World Cup. Now they have more con­fi­dence. Maybe if they play like last time it is pos­si­ble to have some­thing good for them.”

No. 2 Brazil is a fa­vorite to reach the cham­pi­onship game, whereas Switzer­land en­ters the tour­na­ment ranked sixth.

Yet Costa Rica could build mo­men­tum the way it did in 2014 with a vic­tory in the opener June 17 against No. 35 Ser­bia in Sa­mara, Rus­sia. Then it might come down to the out­come of the Ti­cos' fi­nal group game 10 days later, against Switzer­land.

But Os­car Ramirez' team is also tal­ented enough to hold its own against Brazil. Costa

Rica, af­ter all, fin­ished sec­ond only to Mex­ico

It would be a mis­take to un­der­es­ti­mate Costa Rica, which is en­joy­ing a golden age of tal­ent.

in qual­i­fy­ing in the North and Cen­tral Amer­ica and Caribbean re­gion known as CONCACAF.

It would be a mis­take to un­der­es­ti­mate Costa Rica, which is en­joy­ing a golden age of tal­ent sim­i­lar to Mex­ico's. It starts with cap­tain Bryan Ruiz, a left-footed at­tack­ing mid­fielder who plays for Sport­ing CP in Por­tu­gal.

The Ti­cos also have a world­class goal­keeper in Keylor Navas, who plays for Span­ish power Real Madrid. Ver­sa­tile for­ward Joel Camp­bell is on loan from Ar­se­nal to La Liga's Real Bet­tis. De­fender Bryan Oviedo plays at Sun­der­land in Eng­land.

Costa Ri­can in­ter­na­tion­als also are highly val­ued in North Amer­ica's Ma­jor League Soc­cer, with such stand­outs as Ken­dall Was­ton (Van­cou­ver White­caps), Mar­cos Ureña (Los An­ge­les FC), Ulises Se­gura (D.C. United) and Fran­cisco Calvo (Min­nesota United) dot­ting the ros­ters.

Godoy, who plays for the MLS San Jose Earth­quakes, said a strong World Cup show­ing al­lows a small coun­try such as Costa Rica to de­velop tal­ent be­cause play­ers get signed by more com­pet­i­tive for­eign teams.

The scene in Rus­sia

The 2018 World Cup is be­ing held across 11 cities in the sprawl­ing Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. Games will be played as far east as Yeka­ter­in­burg, as far west as Kalin­ingrad on the Baltic

Sea, as far south as Sochi on the Black Sea and as far north as St. Peters­burg.

Each city will hold a soc­cer fan fest, a site out­side the sta­dium for tick­et­less spec­ta­tors to gather to en­joy the ac­tion on big-screen tele­casts.

Rus­sian or­ga­niz­ers cre­ated sim­i­lar fes­ti­vals around the 2014 Sochi Win­ter Games, but they were among the most soul­less Olympics that I've ex­pe­ri­enced.

Many peo­ple ar­gue Rus­sia is the wrong coun­try to play host to the world's most pop­u­lar sport­ing event. They are con­cerned that the World Cup ex­pe­ri­ence will be less than sat­is­fy­ing be­cause of Rus­sia's desta­bi­liz­ing role in the global land­scape, in­clud­ing its al­leged med­dling in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, its mil­i­tary al­liance with Syria and its role in the government-spon­sored sports and drug scan­dal.

Above: Costa Rica's World Cup qual­if­ing team, Sept. 5, 2017 at the Na­tional Sta­dium game against Mex­ico, tie 1-1.

Costa Rica team en­ter­ing the field be­fore the World Cup game against Eng­land in Belo Hor­i­zonte, Brazil, June 24, 2014

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