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Stern tests ahead for Mexico


Nowhere Man: the tao of Mark Geiger

ESPN FC & Howler

Lopetegui keeping Spain calm, confident

 By Matt Levin

Costa Rica's World Cup predictions

After four years of waiting, the time has come. Another World Cup is here, and our bloggers across all 32 competing countries have each predicted the fate that awaits their team. The country's Outlook gives a general view of its situation ahead of the tournament, while Pitfalls takes a look at any potential problems. Each blogger will also predict the top scorer and breakout star and suggest how far that nation can go.


Costa Rica completed a smooth CONCACAF qualifying campaign, and then started moving in the wrong direction. The problems resulted from a mixture of poor play and bad luck. (The misfortune actually started when Costa Rica were drawn into a group with three former World Cup champions.) After qualifying, the team lost its next three friendlies -- and failed to score in all of them, as well. Around the same time as those friendly flops, Costa Rica's best defender, Bryan Oviedo, broke his leg in a Premier League match and wound up missing out on Brazil. And in late May, on the penultimate day of La Sele's training camp, top striker Álvaro Saborío fractured a bone in his right foot. He, too, was out of the World Cup.

On the plus side, Keylor Navas will arrive in Brazil as one of the most in-form goalkeepers in the world after a fantastic season with Levante in La Liga. And in Costa Rica's final friendly before the World Cup, the Ticos rallied late to draw 1-1 with Ireland, and they did so by playing their best second half of football since qualifying.


How will Costa Rica score? When Saborío went down, Costa Rica lost its sturdiest, strongest attacker. Nobody on the 23-man roster can replace his size or experience. Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto's game plan focuses heavily on defense -- though the middle of the defense has struggled lately, Costa Rica allowed the fewest goals (seven) during CONCACAF qualifying -- and there are few scoring options in the Ticos' lineup. In Pinto's 5-4-1 scheme, midfielders and fullbacks need to be smart about applying pressure without getting burned by a counterattack. But those same players can't be tentative, either, if Costa Rica is to score at all in Brazil.


Bryan Ruiz. It's a tough call between him and 21-year-old phenom Joel Campbell. Both are in similar situations: Brilliant players with uncertain futures. Ruiz (PSV Eindhoven) and Campbell (Olympiakos) are both coming off strong European seasons while on loan from English clubs -- Fulham and Arsenal, respectively. Both will be motivated to define their futures with strong performances in Brazil. We'll go with Ruiz, the captain and the team's most creative player, as the Tico most likely find the net against three stingy defences. The attacking midfielder wasn't pleased with the way things went with Fulham (Ruiz signed in 2011, but felt the club never figured out how to use him). He'll be eager to show up his doubters.

Celso Borges is a stable presence in midfield for Costa Rica.
Celso Borges is a stable presence in midfield for Costa Rica.


Celso Borges. The central midfielder has spent his whole life around Costa Rica football. His Brazilian-born father, Alexandre Guimaraes, played for Costa Rica's inaugural World Cup squad in Italy in 1990, and coached Costa Rica's 2002 and 2006 World Cup teams. Growing up in that atmosphere, Borges developed into an impressive young talent. The charismatic 25-year-old played for the Ticos' under-17 and under-20 World Cup teams before settling into a steady role in the senior squad's midfield. Borges, a member of AIK in the Swedish league, mixes crisp passing with a powerful shot. He's also the most recent player to score for the Ticos after his penalty allowed Costa Rica to tie Ireland on Friday.

PREDICTION: Group stage exit

Fourth in group. Here are some justifications for believing in Costa Rica: Star Uruguay striker Luis Suarez might miss the World Cup opener versus La Sele. Italy will meet Costa Rica in boiling Recife, a climate that favours the tropical Ticos. England, always under immense pressure from its fans and media, could fall apart in the match against Costa Rica with a knockout-round berth on the line (or conceivably already could be eliminated). Still, with a conservative game plan and little offense to speak of, the Ticos could look more like they're playing not to lose in Brazil. That will cause headaches for opponents, and maybe result in a draw or two. It won't be enough to avoid the cellar in Group D.