Team: Costa Rica
Nickname: Los Ticos
Schedule: June 14 vs. Uruguay, June 20 vs. Italy, June 24 vs. England
World Cup History: Round of 16 (1990), Qualified (2002, 2006)
Rankings: FIFA (34), SPI (24)
Winning Odds: 1,500-1
Qualifying Form: Costa Rica finished second in the CONCACAF Hex with 18 points and a +6 goal difference. They won all five home games, but took just three points from five away matches. They beat the U.S. 3-1 and felt aggrieved about being forced to continue their 1-0 away defeat in a blizzard.
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto. The 61-year-old Colombian has experience at multiple clubs, throughout Central and South America. He will be looking for redemption, after previous, getting canned in previous stints with Costa Rica and Colombia.
Tactics: The Costa Ricans play a resolute, defensive system built around three central defenders. Wing backs and wingers can make it a 5-4-1 or a 3-4-3 depending on the phase of play. So basically, stay tight and hope their relatively forwards can create something on a counter attack.
RELATED: The Big Lead 2014 World Cup Previews
Player to Watch: Bryan Ruiz. The 28-year-old attacking midfielder and captain had a rough season at Fulham, that saw him dropped from the relegation bound club and loaned out to PSV. But he’s still the seminal figure for the Costa Rican national side. If something positive happens going forward, expect him to have something to do with it.
Squad: This is not an overly talented group, but they are not pushovers. Eleven of the 26-man preliminary squad called up play for European clubs. The strength is up front with Ruiz, Arsenal perpetual loanee Joel Campbell and prolific Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio. They also have a strong, experienced goalkeeper in Levante’s Keylor Navas. A significant absence will be Everton defender Brian Oviedo, who broke his leg.
Group Outlook: Not good, Bob. Group D is not quite the group of death, because the Costa Ricans are in it. They are in a group with three significantly better opponents. The long odds reflect their predicament as much as their ability. If they can get a result, that may be something to take home and feel good about.
Notable Wag: Bryan Oviedo will miss out on the World Cup, but his wife Angie Alfaro Loria is a Costa Rican model.
N.B. Costa Rica abolished its military in its 1949 constitution. Brace yourself. Someone will try to sledge-hammer that fact into a soccer joke.
[Photos via Getty, Facebook]