(Reuters) - Costa Rica were one of the major surprises of the 2014 World Cup and will head to Russia for next year’s tournament with largely the same squad of players having easily qualified from the CONCACAF region.
Little was expected of the ‘Ticos’ in Brazil after they were drawn in a group with Uruguay, Italy and England, but the team coached by Jorge Luis Pinto topped the standings and went on to beat Greece in the round of 16 on penalties.
It could have been an even more memorable tournament for the Central American nation had they not exited to the Netherlands on penalties after their first ever quarter-final appearance ended goalless following extra time.
Much of the credit for that historic run was given to Colombian coach Pinto, but the current man in charge, Oscar Ramirez, has continued his good work.
One of the highlights of Costa Rica’s qualifying campaign was a 4-0 crushing of the United States in San Jose that cost U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann his job.
To prove that result was no fluke, Costa Rica beat the Americans 2-0 in New Jersey and finished a relatively comfortable second in the final group, won by Mexico.
Both goals in that win at Red Bull Arena came from striker Marco Urena. He led the line well in the absence of Real Betis forward Joel Campbell, who missed the latter stage of qualifying due to injury.
The core of the team which beat Italy and Uruguay in Brazil is still in place with Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas in goal, Celtic’s Cristian Gamboa, Sunderland’s Bryan Oviedo and Bologna’s Giancarlo Gonzalez at the back.
Christian Bolanos, 33, remains influential in midfield where Deportivo La Coruna’s Celso Borges has held off competition from younger players.
Captain Bryan Ruiz, of Sporting Lisbon, continues to be the creative force in attack while Ramirez will hope that the speedy Campbell will be back to full fitness in Russia.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis