Costa Rica could keep England and others out at World Cup
Keylor Navas is not a name familiar to English audiences. It could be soon, however, if the Costa Rica keeper plays a blinder against the Three Lions at the World Cup finals.
Coral make the Central American nation 1000/1 outsiders to win the tournament, but that is not their goal – upsetting the applecart is.
Navas kept his 15th La Liga clean sheet of the season against Atletico Madrid recently, and only goalies playing for Spanish sides that have qualified for the Champions League can boast better stats than him.
Costa Rica conceded just a dozen goals from 16 qualification matches, so there is sufficient evidence to say that Navas, who sealed seven shut-outs en route to Brazil, has reproduced his club form over to his country.
In front of him are a trio of hugely experienced defenders. Michael Umana (Deportivo Saprissa), Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls) and Junior Diaz (Mainz) have almost 200 caps between them.
Umana was at the last World Cup that Costa Rica qualified for, in 2006, but there are few of that old guard left. Everton star Bryan Oviedo has a broken leg, however, and it would be a huge gamble to rush his recovery so he could figure at the finals.
It does give an opportunity for other European-based players, though. Cristian Gamboa, of Norwegian outfit Rosenborg, is a similar outlet on the right to Oviedo.
Nicaraguan-born centre half Oscar Duarte, meanwhile, has made steady progress during his first season at Club Bruges. Columbus Crew couple Waylon Francis and Giancarlo Gonzalez may go as backup, alongside Alajuelense pair Johnny Acosta and Jose Salvatierra.
In midfield, the exotically names Yeltsin Tejeda holds, backed up by Esteban Granados, while central operator Celso Borges (AIK Stockholm) supplemented the forward line’s goals in qualifying nicely with three.
Right winger Chrstian Bolanos is also plying his trade in Scandinavia with Copenhagen. The same can be said of Valerenga counterpart Digo Calvo and Aalesunds attacking midfielder Michael Barrantes.
He is set to compete with Wellington Phoenix’s Carlos Hernandez for that berth. Club teammate Kenny Cunningham – no Republic of Ireland fans, not the former Wimbledon defender and RTE Sport pundit – could also be a wide option.
In attack, Costa Rica’s three main forwards are all names familiar to English audiences, following in the footsteps of Paulo Wanchope. Former Bristol City loanee Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake) led the way with eight in qualifying.
Joel Campbell, owned by Arsenal, showed the world what he could when he scored a stunning goal for Olympiakos against Manchester United in the Champions League knockout stage.
Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, who quit Craven Cottage for a loan spell with Eredivisie outfit PSV Eindhoven in January, certainly knows how to flee a sinking ship. He has had an improving campaign in the Netherlands, and is too valuable and versatile for Costa Rica to ignore.
Kuban Krasnodar striker Marco Urena will go as backup, but has yet to score for the Russian side. John Jairo Ruiz (Lille), meanwhile, looks a raw talent that should sneak into the final squad, and could be used as an impact sub for country as he is for club.
Costa Rica are naturally the massive 33/1 outsiders to win Group D, which also contains Italy and Uruguay, as well as England. They are 8/1 shots to somehow qualify for the knockout stages.
A 5/2 price on a draw against the Three Lions could be worth a small bet, because of Costa Rica’s outstanding stopper and the propensity for England to struggle at tournaments.