The Costa Rican National Team experienced a before and after following the arrival of Colombian coach Luis Fernando Suárez. The coach took office in mid 2021 and he did what no one expected by making a generational change. Suárez gave National Team debuts to 22 players in 15 months. His start was not easy though. In the 2021 Gold Cup, Costa Rica were eliminated by Canada in the quarter-finals, while in the final round on route to Qatar 2022, only six points out of a possible 21 were won in the first round of games.
Players between 17 and 20-years-old, including 18-year-old Jewison Bennette of Sunderland, earned a place and Costa Rica resurfaced, winning 19 of 21 possible points in the second round of matches. In the playoffs, the Tricolor beat New Zealand with trademark defensive order. Costa Rica is not a team that scores many goals (13 in 14 qualifying games), their main virtue is in the defensive phase (eight goals conceded in 14 qualifying games). With Keylor Navas as the saviour and leader, and with Óscar Duarte and Francisco Calvo as central markers who coordinate the defense, they are though to beat.
Speedy transitions characterize this squad as do footballers who use the ball well, such as Celso Borges and Joel Campbell as well as more explosive players, such as Bennett and Anthony Contreras. The atmosphere around the squad has changed so much of late that now its players are even talking about achieving something historic in Qatar. “We want to go to the World Cup with the aim of being champions. Many will say that we are crazy”, said Kendall Waston.
Coach: Luis Fernando Suárez is a 62-year-old Colombian ex-player who will participate for the third time at a World Cup as a coach, doing so with three different teams. Suárez took Ecuador to Germany 2006 and reached the round of 16, while he made it to Brazil in 2014 with Honduras but was eliminated in the group stages. With Costa Rica, his revolution not only won a ticket to Qatar but earned himself a contract renewal until 2026. Suárez’s style is characterized by his line of four defenders, he likes order and prioritizes closing down spaces while being passionate about making room for new talent.
Star: At 35, Keylor Navas is still the central figure of the Costa Rican National Team. The goalkeeper who won the three Champions League as a starter at Real Madrid faded in the second half of 2022 with PSG but Navas was key with decisive saves in the CONCACAF qualifiers and is Costa Rica’s leader on and off the pitch. Despite his lack of games at PSG, he’s still performing well for the National Team.
Unsung Hero: Central defender Francisco Calvo arrives in Qatar without the spotlight falling upon him but he is the leader of a defense that only conceded eight goals in 14 qualifying games. Calvo played 13 of those 14 as a starter and was the player who accumulated the most minutes en route to the World Cup. Calvo made the jump from MLS to Turkey’s Konyaspor in 2022.
Probable line-up, 4-5-1: Keylor Navas – Carlos Martínez – Francisco Calvo – Óscar Duarte – Bryan Oviedo – Celso Borges – Yeltsin Tejeda – Jewison Bennette – Gerson Torres – Joel Campbell – Anthony Contreras.
By Esteban Valverde and Cristian Brenes of La Nacion via Get Football partnership with the Guardian