WORLD CUP: Costa Rica lifted expectations with run to last 8
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — After reaching the quarterfinals at the World Cup four years ago, Costa Rica has high standards to match in Russia.
The Central American nation, with a population of just under 5 million people, won a group in Brazil that included England, Italy and Uruguay and only lost to the Netherlands in a penalty shootout.
This time, on its fifth appearance at a World Cup, Costa Rica will be taking on five-time champion Brazil in Group E, a team they also played in the group stage in the 1990 and the 2002 editions of the tournament.
Here's a closer look at the Costa Rica team:
Costa Rica's qualifying path to Russia was riddled with doubts when coach Paulo Wanchope resigned after being involved in a fight at an under-23 game.
Former midfielder Oscar Ramirez took over, keeping the same base of players from the 2014 World Cup, even those that did not enjoy regular playing time in Europe. Ramirez's main challenge will be finding a way to fit new players into this core group, especially in the attack.
Keylor Navas is Costa Rica's best-known player and has the leadership qualities to match. His strong performance in Brazil secured a move in 2014 to Real Madrid, where he has been a regular starter despite criticism from fans.
Navas has won three Champions League titles with the Spanish club since he joined.
Giancarlo Gonzalez and Bryan Oviedo are undisputed starters.
Kendall Waston, who scored the qualifying goal in a last-gasp draw against Honduras in Central American qualifying, is likely to also be included in the starting lineup.
Other options include veteran Oscar Duarte and versatile defender Francisco Calvo.
Bryan Ruiz, now 32 but one of the team's best players in 2014, is the captain and main attacking threat.
The Sporting Lisbon midfielder, who can also play as a second striker, was key to the run to the quarterfinals four years ago.
Celso Gamboa, a defensive midfielder for Deportivo La Coruna, should also be confident of making the starting team. Cristian Bolanos, who plays for Costa Rican club Deportivo Saprissa, is struggling to overcome injuries.
Joel Campbell, who is on loan at Real Betis from Arsenal, scored twice when Costa Rica beat the United States 4-0 in World Cup qualifying. Ramirez also searched for options in the Costa Rican league, including David Ramirez and Ariel Rodriguez, who play for Saprissa.
Costa Rica's biggest group game is against Brazil on June 22 in St. Petersburg, where it is also based for the tournament. The opener is against Serbia on Sunday in Samara. The team will also face Switzerland on June 27 in Nizhny Novgorod.
Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense), Leonel Moreira (Herediano)
Defenders: Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ian Smith (Norrkoping), Ronald Matarrita (New York City), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Johnny Acosta (Rionegro Aguilas)
Midfielders: David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne-Sport), Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruna), Randall Azofeifa (Herediano), Rodney Wallace (New York City), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Daniel Colindres (Saprissa), Christian Bolanos (Saprissa)
Forwards: Johan Venegas (Saprissa), Joel Campbell (Real Betis), Marco Urena (Los Angeles FC)