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Costa Rica's Keysher Fuller and a teammate celebrate their side's goal against Japan
Keysher Fuller (4) scored the only goal Costa Rica would need to upend favorites JapanImage: Francisco Seco/AP Photo/picture alliance
SoccerCosta Rica

Germany opponents Costa Rica not to be taken lightly

Stefan Nestler | Matt Ford
November 30, 2022

Germany need a win against their final Group E opponents to have a chance to advance to the knockout stages. Underdogs Costa Rica have demonstrated yet again at this World Cup that they are capable of pulling off upsets.

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Costa Rica may have been the 32nd and final team to secure qualification for the 2022 World Cup but, in doing so, they also became the first participating team, the hosts aside, to sample something of the atmosphere in Qatar.

Just a few months ago on June 14, Costa Rica beat New Zealand 1-0 in an intercontinental playoff at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, the Qatari municipality which surrounds Doha, to qualify for the World Cup for the third time in a row, and their sixth overall.

While their 2022 campaign started with a serious sputter as they were embarassed 7-0 by a strong Spanish side, they did bounce back with one of their patented upsets, edging Japan 1-0 in their second.

In their first appearance at Italia '90, the Costa Ricans surprised many by reaching the last-16, and went one better in Brazil in 2014 when they made the quarterfinals, knocking out Greece on penalties before losing to the Netherlands – also on penalties.

Both of those tournaments ultimately ended in triumphs for Germany, who also kicked off their own World Cup on home turf in 2006 with a 4-2 win over Costa Rica in Munich. Now, in Qatar, the two are set to meet again in Group E.

Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas makes a save on Greece's Fanis Gekas' penalty shot
Costa Rica beat Greece in a penalty shootout advanced to the quarterfinals in Brazil in 2014Image: Martin Meissner/AP Photo/picture alliance

Experienced spine

Drawn in a group with Germany, Spain and Japan, Costa Rica were very much the underdogs from the get go – as they were in Brazil when they nevertheless progressed from a group featuring England, Italy and Uruguay. But they don't lack experience.

Keylor Navas is by far the biggest name; the 35-year-old ranks among the world's best goalkeepers and won three consecutive Champions League titles with Real Madrid between 2016 and 2018. At club level, he's currently playing second fiddle to Italy's Gianluigi Donnarumma at Paris Saint-Germain – but he remains the Ticos' undisputed number one.

In front of Navas, five more Costa Ricans also have prior World Cup experience from 2014 and 2018: strikers Joel Campbell (30, formerly Arsenal) and Bryan Ruiz (37, formerly of Fulham and Sporting Lisbon), midfielders Celso Borges (34, ex-Deportivo La Coruna) and Yeltsin Tejeda (30), plus defender Oscar Duarte (33, formerly of Club Bruges, Espanyol and Levante).

For them, it's likely to be their final World Cup, but the squad is also evened out by younger players, many of whom play their club football at home in Costa Rica for teams such as Herediano and Alajuelense.

"We have a good balance in the squad," head coach Luis Fernando Sanchez recently told FIFA+. "Despite the generational difference, there is a good synergy between the age groups."

Strong at the back, Bennette and Campbell on the counter

With Navas between the sticks and the experienced center-backs Francisco Calvo and Kendall Watson in front of him, Costa Rica's game is based on a robust defense which is strong in the air, supported by hard-working midfielders and forwards who are prepared to help out defensively.

The Ticos only conceded eight goals in their 14 qualifying games, finishing fourth in the CONCACAF qualification table behind Canada, Mexico and the United States. In the intercontinental playoff in June, Campbell's third-minute header was all Costa Rica needed.

Technically under contract at Arsenal from 2011 to 2018, Campbell has enjoyed a nomadic career with loan spells all over Europe, including at Lorient, Real Betis, Olympiacos, Villarreal and Sporting Lisbon. He's currently playing in Mexico, where he's on loan (again) from Club Leon at Monterrey.

The cross for his goal against New Zealand was provided by Jewison Bennette, at 18 the youngest member of the squad, whose pace and trickery on the wing attracted the attention of English Championship side Sunderland this summer – certainly a player to watch out for in Qatar.

Costa Rica's Jewison Bennette, left, celebrates with his teammate Joel Campbell after scoring a goal
Joel Campbell (right) scored the goal against New Zealand that punched Costa Rica's ticket for QatarImage: Ahn Young-joon/AP/picture alliance

'Together till the end'

At the other end of the age scale, head coach Suarez is one of the older coaches at his third World Cup, having led Ecuador to the last-16 in 2006 and finishing bottom of the group, winless and with only one goal with minnows Honduras in 2014. The Columbian took on the Costa Rica job in June 2021.

"In my 30-year career, I've had maybe three or four good teams where the mentality was right," he said. "And that's exactly what I see with this Costa Rica team: everyone pulling in the same direction."

That mentality is reflected both on and off the pitch, with the players labelling their social media posts with the words "Anita Mikilona" – a phrase in the language of the indigenous Bribri people meaning "together till the end."

Costa Rica's end at this World Cup could come in their final Group E game against Germany on Thursday. However, there is still an outside chance of them extending their stay in Qatar should Spain beat Japan as expected – and they pull off a remarkable upset to avenge that 4-2 defeat in Munich 16 years ago.

This article was translated from German.

Matt Ford Kommentarbild
Matt Ford Reporter and editor for DW Sports specializing in European football, fan culture & sports politics.@matt_4d
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