Campbell soups up Costa Rica's hopes
It was a result that few had really given much thought to. Group D was supposed to be a three-way race between England, Italy and Uruguay for the two round-of-16 berths, yet with a 3-1 victory over the South Americans, Costa Rica showed that they have other ideas. Despite having fallen behind and shown little of note in a slow first-half, Jorge Luis Pinto's side demonstrated they have not ventured to Brazil simply to make up the numbers. At the heart of everything they did right on the day was Arsenal-owned forward Joel Campbell.
Gunners fans could be forgiven if they were not aware of the 21-year-old's presence on the club's books or, indeed, if he had drifted out of their consciousness over the three years since he arrived in London. Campbell is yet to play for his parent side, spending time in Spain, France and, most recently, Greece as he initially waited for a work permit to be granted. As of last year, that permit has arrived.
His showing on Saturday night will ensure that many of those who were not so familiar with Costa Rica's brightest talent are now well aware of his potential -- although it remains only potential for the time being.
Even before he pulled his side level in the contest, Campbell had been Costa Rica's best outlet. Dropping between the lines, his willingness to collect the ball and run at opponents was a major nuisance to Uruguay's far from mobile defence. A couple of rasping shots narrowly wide from range, meanwhile, signalled his intent. When his goal came, courtesy of a fine finish from a well-hit cross into the area, both he and Costa Rica were well deserving of parity in the game.
“He can control the ball at pace and strike with remarkable purity on his left-foot but is still in need of further refinement to reach the top. ”
From that point on, with the CONCACAF nation quickly taking the lead through a set-piece goal, Campbell was in his element. With Uruguay needing to push for a goal, his pace and trickery on the counter was his side's best outlet, continually testing and frustrating Uruguay.
More unexpected was that he would go on to produce the ball of the match, slicing open the Uruguay defence for teammate Marco Urena to score the fourth goal of the contest. The game was gone for Uruguay and, to make it worse, Campbell's running of the ball into the corners provoked a red card for experienced full-back Maxi Pereira. Costa Rica's team effort deserves great appreciation, but it was the contribution of Campbell that really laid the foundations for a shock success.
England and Italy now lie in wait for the young upstart and it will be a big test of the young starlet to see whether he can produce a second standout display on the World Cup stage. Ever since his 2011 breakthrough on the international scene at the Gold Cup and Copa America of the same year, his ability to be a match-winner has been evident. Maintaining those contributions week after week has been the difficulty.
Campbell is already an improved player from the teenager who started his European career largely as a super-sub for Lorient. His decision making is much improved and, indeed, while his second season in Spain with Real Betis was a difficult one, he further matured as a player during his time in Andalusia where, for the first time, he was a regular in the starting lineup. At Olympiakos this past year, the improvement has been clear -- as the Manchester United fans who saw him score a Champions League scorcher against their side can testify.
With that spell at an end, the youngster will now await further instruction from Arsenal as to his future direction. Competition at Emirates Stadium is intense in forward positions and, if the Gunners are to continue to compete at the top of the Premier League, they cannot afford to take a major gamble with their squad composition. However, if he can repeat his Uruguay performance, particularly against England, the clamour for a greater role at Arsenal will grow.
Campbell has qualities that mark him out as a unique talent with his ability to control the ball at pace and strike with remarkable purity on his left-foot. However, he is still in need of further refinement to succeed at the top of the game. A season on loan within the English game could be the answer, while Arsene Wenger could also choose to keep him around the squad and ease him into life as an Arsenal player. He needs time on the pitch, though, and there would be a major risk of him stalling if left to wallow on the bench or in the reserves.
All that is for the future, though, with Campbell's first task being to help Costa Rica escape from the World Cup group stage for the first time in their history. It would be a remarkable achievement in one of the tournament's toughest groups and, while England and Italy are unlikely to collapse quite as easily as Uruguay, with Campbell on the pitch there is always a sense that a shock is possible.
Saturday was a day when young stars truly burst onto the scene at the 2014 World Cup in the shape of Raheem Sterling, Serge Aurier and James Rodriguez. However, it was Campbell who left perhaps the deepest impression.
For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout's Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter @ChrisAtkins_. More of his work profiling rising talents can be found at TheElastico.com.