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World Cup 2018 team preview: Can Costa Rica repeat its Cinderella run?

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group E is Costa Rica.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.

Outlook

Odds to win Group E: 5.9%
Odds to advance: 20%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.2%
Elo rank: 31
Yahoo Sports power rank: 22

Our writers say: Los Ticos were the true surprise package in 2014, topping a group in which they were expected to finish rock-bottom, before taking the Netherlands to a shootout in the quarterfinals. Given their track record, it would be churlish to dismiss a side featuring the likes of Bryan Ruiz and Keylor Navas. Ryan Bailey

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Bryan Ruiz and Keylor Navas will be the on-field and off-field leaders for Costa Rica at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 5th
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
2014 finish: Lost to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals
Qualifying: Finished second in CONCACAF
Schedule: Serbia (Sunday, June 17, 8 a.m., Fox), Brazil (Friday, June 27, 8 a.m., FS1), Switzerland (Wednesday, June 27, 2 p.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group E preview]

Squad

Manager: Oscar Ramirez
Captain: Bryan Ruiz (M)
Top players: Keylor Navas (G), Ruiz, Celso Borges (M)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: This is basically the same team that reached the quarterfinals in 2014. As many as nine players from the 11 that fell to the Netherlands in Brazil could start the opener in Russia. At least seven will. Which is insane. No other team will have that little turnover. No team, therefore, will have this much continuity. And especially at the back, that’s a huge positive. Oh, and Keylor Navas es un animal.

Why they’ll lose games: Just like there was in 2014, and throughout the past four years, there’s still a lack of attacking talent and endeavor. The system is defensive in nature, which is fine. But Costa Rica sometimes struggles to flip the switch to a more adventurous mindset if it goes behind. Plus, its three forward-most players could be a combined 93 years old – though Joel Campbell appears to be up to speed so Los Ticos will at least have some young legs and pace on the counter. But age is a worry in general. Costa Rica is one of the three oldest teams at the tournament. Many of those 7-9 starting lineup holdovers aren’t the players they once were.

How they’ll play: New manager, more or less the same system as four years ago. They’ll play defensively, with three center backs, two wing backs, two back-line shields in midfield, and two wide-ish playmakers who hold the counterattacking keys, but often get pinned back into a 5-4-1 shape.

Projected lineup (5-2-2-1): Keylor Navas; Christian Gamboa, Oscar Duarte, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Kendall Waston, Bryan Oviedo; Celso Borges, David Guzman; Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell; Marco Urena.

Christian Bolanos could come in for either Campbell or Urena – with Campbell moving up top in the second scenario. Johnny Acosta is the fourth center back, but could ascend to third on the depth chart. Everything else seems set. Yeltsin Tejada will back up either Borges or Guzman.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: Jorge Luis Pinto, who guided the team to the quarterfinals in 2014, parted ways with the team after Brazil. Costa Rica subsequently thought it had the perfect replacement, beloved former striker Paulo Wanchope. Then this happened in Panama:

Wanchope stepped down. Up stepped Ramirez, who had been hired as an assistant just a week before Wanchope’s outburst. And four years later – three after the fight – it’s as if nothing has changed.

Why to root for them: CONCACAF pride – if you live in North or Central America, at least. Or Navas. Or the dream of a 2014 repeat, which is unlikely but not implausible.

Why to root against them: OK, a 2014 repeat is very unlikely. And aside from that scenario, they’re probably won’t be too much attractive soccer on display.

If you’re going to watch one game … Choose the second one. Watch them try to vex Brazil. That’s what Los Ticos do best, and there are few better tests for their prowess than the Selecao.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

Group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

– – – – – – –

Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

More World Cup coverage from Yahoo Sports:
2018 World Cup preview hub
Ranking the top 100 players at the World Cup
FC Yahoo Mixer: The Ronaldo vs. Messi debate
A tactical guide to the 2018 World Cup
How Vladimir Putin can use the World Cup to his benefit

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