Twenty four years ago on this day, Costa Rica beat Scotland to advance to the Round of 16 at Italia ’90. Fittingly, on the same June 20th on the calendar, Costa Rica produced another historic scalp. Costa Rica, a team with players mainly based in Scandinavia and the domestic league, has produced something amazing that so few expected. How did this happened?
Keen followers of CONCACAF will know how difficult trips to San Jose, Costa Rica have always been, from Saprissa to the new Estadio Nacional stadium. They’ve never been an amazing article away from home, but if it wasn’t for snow in Commerce City, they may have done more damage to the US. Their World Cup friendly series wasn’t all that impressive, so they showed no signs of even threatening a group with England, Italy, and Uruguay. Combine this with the absences of Bryan Oviedo and Alvaro Saborio, this could not have happened. But it did. And Head Coach Jorge Luis Pinto has outclassed everyone.
Five at the back for a while seemed to be taboo, but as Mexico, the Netherlands, and now Costa Rica has proven, it can be incredibly effective for this World Cup. Pinto has worked his personnel to be strong defensively, while having the speed on the counter to catch teams out who are sleeping at the back. This worked well against both Uruguay and Italy, teams who are more deliberate in their build-up play. By no means are these tactics negative, but the pragmatism has allowed Costa Rica to react and counter with efficiency that neither Oscar Tabarez or Cesare Prandelli could overcome.
It’s a good story for many players too. Costa Rica is not blessed with world class talent, but the talent they do have has stepped up in a big way. Joel Campbell continues to grow before our eyes, and should make his name in the Premier League next season. Keylor Navas continues to build on his amazing Levante form, and Bryan Ruiz continues to be a thorn in everyone’s side on the international level. Everyone else has fallen in line, from Giancarlo Gonzalez of the Columbus Crew to Celso Borges, son of one of Costa Rica’s best players ever.
Now Costa Rica are well on their way to not only advancing out of the group but topping it, and possibly facing a beatable Ivory Coast team in the Round of 16. This dream for Los Ticos is showing no signs of stopping, and it’s great to see for not only fans of this tiny Central American nation, but for fans of CONCACAF who have seen the confederation step up in a major way in this tournament like it never has before.