Sport Football Analysis: How Costa Rica’s fooled us all

Analysis: How Costa Rica’s fooled us all

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There is no doubt Costa Rica has been the surprise performer in Brazil, claiming two of the biggest shocks in the tournament thus far.

This morning, Los Ticos shocked four-time World Cup winner Italy 1-0 in an efficient but effervescent display in Recife, having already beaten tournament dark horse Uruguay 3-1.

The minnows have been a revelation in a group many expected them to struggle in, and they now have a chance of topping the group if they can get a point or more against struggling England.

But there are a number of reasons behind Costa Rica’s success, with the football planets seeming to align in the nation’s favour.

Joel Campbell

Arsenal fans will be well aware of Joel Campbell’s potential, though he has yet to feature in the north London club’s famous red and white.

The 21-year-old has failed to get a game for the Gunners just yet, having been shipped out for spells at French club Lorient and Greece’s Olympiakos due to UK work permit issues.

But away from the Gunners, Campbell has made hay while the sun shines, scoring crucial goals in big games, including a peach against Manchester United in the Champions League for Olympiakos.

Now he is the main man for Costa Rica, switching positions across the front three often to unsettle the opposition.

His direct running and pace is proving a constant menace. He found a wicked angle to jag in and run at the Italian defence, drawing a blatant foul from Giorgio Chiellini in the penalty area.

Incorrectly, no penalty was awarded, but the spark that move provided saw Costa Rica take the lead with its very next attack as Bryan Ruiz headed in a cross from the left.

Campbell was even more destructive against Uruguay, thumping home a volley for his team’s opener before providing a clever pass for the third goal as the central Americans won 3-1.

A handy defence

The Costa Rican defence was always going to be tested in a brutal Group D, and so far it has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations.

Giancarlo Gonzalez was immense against both Uruguay and Italy, putting in 16 clearances, five interceptions and winning five offside calls across the two games.

Gonzalez has been supported excellently by the likes of Oscar Duarte – who scored against Uruguay – and Junior Diaz, who put in a superb rearguard shift against the Italians at left-back.

The midfield also does its bit, with the likes of Christian Bolanos and Bryan Ruiz picking up a host of strategic fouls in the middle of the park to upset their opponents rhythm.

Ultimately, the only goal either of Uruguay or Italy could muster against the supposed minnows was an Edinson Cavani penalty past Keylor Navas, who has also lived up to his billing as a keeper to watch this tournament.

Passion on the sidelines

In the dying stages of the match against Italy, Costa Rica’s Colombian-born coach Jorge Luis Pinto was an animated figure as he looked to push his players over the line for a historic win.

Seeming to live every tackle, clearance and counter-attack, Pinto’s passion was clear to see as his charges executed his game plan to perfection.

“Today is very special,” an emotional Pinto said after the match. “We knew today we could make history and we have been able to do so.

“We have changed many things. In our tactics we have a different system. We press much more, we press at the front and this is working very well.”

Underdogs underestimated

The fabled ‘Group of Death’ was expected to cost one leading light a place in the knockout rounds. Instead, Group D could dump out two, and little Costa Rica is solely to blame.

Los Ticos have crashed the party in a big way. Every pundit and his dog expected the English, Uruguayans and Italians to battle it out for the top two spots, with Costa Rica tipped to turn up and have its collective hide duly whipped.

Instead, the top dogs have cannibalised themselves. Italy beat England before slipping up against Costa Rica, while Uruguay followed up its opening loss with a 2-1 victory over the Three Lions.

England, it turns out, has been the real whipping boy of Group D.

‘Home-ground’ advantage

Recife may be over 5,700km away from Costa Rica, but Los Ticos team seems to be riding a wave carrying a number of lesser-fancied North and South American teams.

The likes of Chile and Colombia have impressed with electric performances in Group B and C respectively, while many are tipping a Brazil-Argentina final in July.

Mexico performed adequately in a 1-0 win over Cameroon before holding hosts Brazil to a draw, while the United States got one up over bogey team Ghana in Group G.

Costa Rica has joined in on the fun with a large, passionate following. With an unexpected top-placing in its group well and truly up for grabs, a groundswell of excitement is developing ahead of a possible contest against Group C’s second-placed team.