Despite missing out on South Africa 2010, Costa Rica have established themselves as the most consistent third team in the CONCACAF pecking order, ranking in behind Mexico and the United States. The Ticos reached their first FIFA World Cup™ back in 1990 after attempting to qualify on and off since 1938. They then missed out on the 1994 and 1998 editions before returning to the global fold with distinction in 2002. They went as far as the inter-continental play-off last year, but were beaten barely by eventual semi-finalists Uruguay over two legs and missed out on booking their third consecutive appearance at the biggest football show on earth.
FIFA World Cup finals history
Costa Rica played their first game as a national team in 1921, a 7-0 win over Central American neighbours El Salvador. As they developed as a side, things weren’t always quite so easy, but after many years of manful efforts they finally managed to reach the world’s biggest football tournament in 1990, taking full advantage of Mexico’s suspension to reach the finals in Italy. Once there, they beat Sweden and Scotland to reach the knockout rounds in an impressive debut under the care of wily boss Bora Milutinovic.
They returned to the world stage in 2002 after narrowly failing to reach USA 1994 and France 1998. Drawn into a tricky group alongside eventual champions Brazil and semi-finalists Turkey, the valiant Ticos went out at the first hurdle, the same stage where they would make their exit in a significantly poorer showing four years later in Germany.
The current crop
The six-time Central American champions are in a moment of transition, with the FA turning to Jorge Luis Pinto after an unsuccessful stint in charge by Ricardo La Volpe. It is hoped that Pinto can lead the way for a talented and youthful generation of Costa Rican players as they take aim at a fourth World Cup appearance at Brazil 2014. The team will first need to recover psychologically after only reaching the quarter-final stage of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, where they lost on penalties to neighbours Honduras, the very side that pipped them to the last place from the region at last year’s World Cup on African soil.
Costa Rica’s fortunes lie at the skillful feet of one Bryan Ruiz. Called “a truly special player” by former coach Rodrigo Kenton, Ruiz established himself at club side Twente in the Netherlands before moving on to Fulham in England. He ranks among the best playmakers in the North, Central American and Caribbean zone. Alongside Ruiz are a number of tried-and-trusted performers like Alvaro Saborio, Cristian Bolanos and outstanding goalkeeper Keilor Navas. La Volpe also unearthed a stunning talent when he took a junior side to the 2011 Copa America in Argentina, 19-year-old Joel Campbell’s dribbling and all-around attack play making waves in the European transfer market.
Coach: Jorge Luis Pinto
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Italy 1990 (Round of 16), FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 (Fourth place)
Former stars: Hernan Medford, Paulo Wanchope, Walter Centeno