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 Posted by Matt Levin
Jun 3, 2014

Japan expose Los Ticos' flaws

Led by Shinji Kagawa, Japan highlighted some major issues that Costa Rica need to address before the World Cup.

If there was one glaring takeaway from Monday night's Japan-Costa Rica match, it was this: The Ticos do not look at all ready for the World Cup.

With the tournament less than two weeks away, Costa Rica's starters were out of rhythm as Japan drubbed the Ticos 3-1 in Tampa. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto's much vaunted defence looked lost, while the offence only had three direct shots on target.

Pinto has vowed to make a few adjustments to the lineup before the Ireland friendly on Friday in Philadelphia. Certainly something has to change if the the Ticos expect to hold back the speed and power of Uruguay, Italy and England in the World Cup. Costa Rica have one more shot to get things right before heading to Brazil.

Here's what we learned from the Japan contest:

1. The middle of the defence can't handle quick players

The final score could have been much worse if not for goalkeeper Keylor Navas. The talented La Liga custodian made a few excellent saves that kept Costa Rica in the match.

But he couldn't save them all, and in the second half the onslaught resulted in three goals. Pinto's 5-4-1 defensive scheme should not be allowing the opposition to slice right through the heart of the defense, yet it happened repeatedly against Japan.

Michael Umana, Giancarlo Gonzalez and Roy Miller seemed clueless when it came to stopping the counterattack of the speedy Japanese. One hopes the defensive misery can all be put down to one bad game -- after all, the team allowed a CONCACAF-low seven goals during qualifying.

2. The attack is feeling Alvaro Saborío's absence

Oft criticized forward Randall Brenes had the perfect chance to quiet all the doubters who said he never belonged on the Costa Rica national team. But Brenes whiffed on the ball as it rolled right in front of the Japanese goal.

The missed opportunity occurred in the the 84th minute, with the Ticos having just fallen behind 2-1. If Brenes had connected, Costa Rica could have come away with a respectable result.

Instead, the scene served as a glaring example of how badly the team missed Alvaro Saborío, the team's top forward who will miss the World Cup with a broken right metatarsal. It also showed why Brenes would have likely been left off the final roster had Saborío not been injured.

Costa Rica's only reliable forward, Joel Campbell, never got going against Japan, and Brenes subbed in for Campbell in the 83rd minute. Marco Urena, the reserve striker, also wasn't able to contribute much during his 15 minutes on the pitch.

3. Junior Diaz is an unanticipated bright spot

Unsurprisingly, the best player on the field for Costa Rica on Monday was team captain Bryan Ruiz, who acts as a hybrid midfielder-forward in Pinto's scheme. But left-back Junior Diaz (along with Navas) wasn't far behind as the night's finest star.

Diaz, playing for injured Everton defender Bryan Oviedo, might have locked up his starting spot with La Sele. He was adequate on defense and made some daring passes during Costa Rica's offensive forays. His excellent centering feed to Ruiz at the 31st minute gave the Ticos' their lone goal.

4. Costa Rica might have some awkward uniform issues

Roy Miller and several Costa Rican players looked like they had weathered a hurricane during the opening half in Tampa. But rain wasn't the issue. While Japan's uniforms remained unsoiled, Costa Rica's jerseys -- designed by Italy's Lotto -- struggled to absorb sweat.

After the match, some fans joked on social media that the only thing Costa Rica could win in Brazil is a wet T-shirt contest. The sweat-soaked apparel could prove a frustrating intangible for La Sele in humid Brazil, where the Ticos believe they have an advantage in the tropical climate.

The team definitely lost a step in the second half after taking a 1-0 lead into halftime. The question is: Are the soaking uniforms weighing down the Ticos?

5. Costa Rica need a strong performance against Ireland

Pinto said he wanted to win these exhibition matches to help stabilize a team that had just lost its top scorer -- Saborío -- in qualifying and must face three former World Cup champions in Group D.

What happened Monday was the opposite of inspiring. Right-back Cristian Gamboa was openly disgusted with the team's poor performance. The team will search for reinvigoration against the Irish, and their success will depend on Pinto's adjustments and tactics.

If the defence can return to its brick wall status and the attack can maintain longer possessions, Costa Rica might be able to carry some momentum into the World Cup after all.

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