Category Archives: Costa Rica

Costa Rica, Joel Campbell and the lost cause

Cristian Gamboa plays a one-two with teammate Christian Bolaños nine minutes into the second half in Fortaleza. Costa Rica trail Uruguay 1-0 but have gradually being gaining the upper-hand, with centre-half Óscar Duarte having just gone close when left unmarked at the far post from a free kick. Bolaños’ return ball is rushed and slightly overhit. It’s heading for the corner flag. Another of the mundane incidences of error to be expected in a game played at high a tempo as this one. Gamboa, an overlapping full-back, might be advised to let it run out of play lest he be caught out of position on a subsequent break. But he goes for it anyway, hooking his right foot at the ball as it hugs the touchline just short of the corner quadrant. Such last-ditch crosses usually end up being skewed off over the end line or land too close to the goalkeeper but Gamboa makes clean contact and gets real pace on it. The ball drops back around the penalty spot. Celso Borges mistimes his run but he has inadvertently sold two Uruguayan defenders a dummy and behind him Joel Campbell has the time to take the ball down and rifle a peach of a shot past a static Fernando Muslera. It’s a great finish but it is the unexpectedness of the chance that is so stunning.

Coaches of underage teams will be showing Gamboa’s exploit to their charges as an example of why you should never give something up as a lost cause but the true beauty of the action is the way it opened space up and altered the field of play, conjuring something out of nothing. It is usually the fancier, more technical flourishes, the Cruyff and Zidane turns, the back-heels that accomplish this on the field. Rarely do you see the more industrial efforts of a bombing, lunging full-back open the game up like that. It wasn’t a game-changer as such –– the Costa Rican equaliser had been on the cards since the restart –– but it represented a conquest of on-field space that both sucker-punched the Uruguayans and gave an enterprising Costa Rica even more confidence in attack. Neither was it a fluke, any more than Campbell’s perfectly weighted through-ball to substitute Marco Urena (who hadn’t yet had a touch) for the third goal was. Gamboa’s cross went where it was supposed to, where it would have if he had more time to take a touch and send an out-swinger into the box.

I have to admit to being one of those that wrote Costa Rica off beforehand –– largely on the basis of their defensive frailty in last week’s friendly against Ireland, in which, to be fair, they were also very good going forward and they were reduced to ten men for much of it. But it ought not to have been such a shock. Though they had never beaten Uruguay before in eight attempts, Costa Rica were deprived of a place at South Africa 2010 only by a wrongly disallowed goal against a Uruguayan side that later reached the semi-final and which was younger and much better than yesterday’s. I’m not sure what ideological shift (or slippage) has facilitated the wonderful festival of football we are seeing in Brazil but I suspect it may have something to do with its being back in South America for the first time in over three decades. The fact that two highly technical sides set the tone in the opening match also helped. Costa Rica have shown they are clearly well equipped to play their part. England and Italy are unlikely to be as compliant or inept as Uruguay were yesterday but Los Ticos will give both a game.

Posted by Oliver Farry

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Preview 10 – Costa Rica

There’s something unnerving when you agree to write about a topic you know little-to-nothing about. I’ve chosen Costa Rica, primarily because I’m sick of the main teams that will be competing in this World Cup. Who cares what team wins? Do we really want to see flowing end-to-end moves from overpaid stars taking advantage of a global shop window in order to raise their game enough to move to a bigger club? Are we still sick of tiki-taka, or have we revised our view, based on the softening of memory due to the passing of time since the last tournament.

Exhaustion is a central part of any World Cup: exhaustion with the sheer number of teams, the many fixtures and the endless opinions followers of the tournament are forced to adopt.

What to say about Costa Rica, a team that are solidly second tier in terms of South American football and seem destined to be ejected from the World Cup at the group stages? That they could cause problems for England.

They could fucking beat England, I’m telling you.

Say England get a point from each of their first two games, against Italy and Uruguay – say they even get four points, perhaps beating Italy. They’ll still need to beat Costa Rica, and that, my friends, would be a potentially interesting game. I might even switch on my telly to watch that one.

Fucking sport. Fucking football. Tournaments are the Noelrock of football – you might initially like some of the music, but then you suddenly find out you’ve bought into a dubious movement and you find yourself up the front at a Seahorses gig convincing yourself they’re superior to the Stone Roses. Then when you see members of Cast having a pint you consider going up to them and telling them one of their songs was good. You’re basically in a cult. There’s no way out. Who cares how Honduras against Ecuador might go on 20th June in Curitiba? I MIGHT CARE! I don’t know yet. I’m hoping I don’t. Chris Evans’s TFI Friday had to end at some point, and so does an international football tournament. Noelrock arguably began exhilaratingly in humble venues and ended in tears at giant, hugely alienating football stadia – as with the World Cup.

But, I suppose that if you’re going to have any real interest in the World Cup you’re probably going to have to concentrate on the smaller teams. In this way, Costa Rica are intriguing enough.

Costa Rica is tucked between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south on the Central American isthmus, and the country’s population, 4.6 million, is pretty much identical in size to that of the Republic of Ireland. Plus Costa Rica have been to more World Cups than the Republic (1990, when they progressed to the round of 16, 2002, 2006 and now 2014).

They came second behind the USA in qualification and their results indicate a decent defence, although it becomes a little more difficult when you begin to look for potential goal scorers. Their first choice centre-forward, Álvaro Saborío, is injured. In his place, Costa Rica will look to the pace of Arsenal’s Joel Campbell, who has just spent a reasonable season at Olympiakos, and to Bryan Ruiz, known to casual viewers of the Premier League for his spectacular goals for Fulham. Ruiz spent the second half of last season on loan to PSV Eindhoven, where he seems to have regained some of the scoring form he showed at previous clubs Gent and Twente. (Everton’s Bryan Oviedo, who can play as a winger or a defender, broke his leg during a fourth round FA Cup tie against Stevenage. It was hoped that he’d be fit for the World Cup, but he isn’t.)

So Costa Rica must pose at least some threat to England.

They have an interesting stadium too – the National Stadium of Costa Rica, a 35,000 capacity ground in a park in the capital San José. It somewhat resembles Bolton’s Reebok Stadium – with perhaps a little of the magic of Gateshead Stadium (a wide running track surrounds the pitch) – and is the outcome of agreements between Costa Rica and the government of China. The latter funded the construction of the stadium in its entirety, a gift supplied once Costa Rica cast off diplomatic links with Taiwan. The banality of the stadium, then, masks the politics that made it possible.

As a ticket into the estranging world of global mass entertainment, the new National Stadium has been highly effective: within a couple of weeks of it opening at the end of March 2011, Shakira played there. Since then, Miley Cyrus, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Whitesnake and Judas Priest.

Most football supporters will never know what it’s like to see their team win something, especially not the World Cup. The trajectory, the narrative – these things matter little. Instead we go to big stadia to see empty shows and we hope that it doesn’t rain.

Posted by Karl Whitney

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