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World Cup Matchups: Costa Rica

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Italy's next task is to take on one of the biggest surprises of the World Cup so far, Los Ticos of Costa Rica. Let's take a look at who they are and what Italy can expect for this one.

Jamie McDonald

Costa Rica are an interesting team, and have already provided one surprise to the World Cup already. The CONCACAF squad shocked much of the world when they trounced Uruguay 3-1 in the group opener last week, proving that they're not the also-ran walkovers that most assumed they were.

The Central American side qualified after finishing second in the "Hex", CONCACAF's final World Cup qualification round. They finished four points behind the United States, but beat the Americans 3-1 on home soil. They're a tough side used to getting down and dirty to do what needs doing, not at all unlike a poor man's version of our beloved Italians.

Tactics

Costa Rica tend to play a more restrained defensive style, alternating between four at the back and three at the back with more defensive wingbacks. They play tight and organized at the back, dropping their pair of defensive midfielders back to choke out as much space in front of goal as possible to make it hard for their opponent to break them down.

Going forward, Costa Rica rely on the talents of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz to get results. Campbell offers the raw athleticism and moments of brilliance, Ruiz the top-level experience and steady creativity. It's not always the prettiest pairing in the world, but it works, and it's gotten them this far already.

In execution, Costa Rica aren't always fun to watch. They bunker off the ball, tackle hard to get it back, and launch the ball long to try to get it to their playmakers when they do. It's a frustrating style when you're facing it, not entirely unlike watching Bologna this past couple of years, but when you're on the wrong side of a bad talent gap, you have to do what you can to win, and Costa Rica has made it work.

Key Players

Joel Campbell - Campbell is young, and probably the best prospect to come out of Costa Rica in a long time. Currently an Arsenal player, he's spent the last few years away on loan to develop, and this last year especially he's really started to blossom. More than just a pure striker, he can create as well as he can finish, as evidenced by his eight goals and twelve assists in the league for Olympiakos in Greece, as well as his goal and assist against Uruguay, and his key role in setting up Costa Rica's third goal. The takeaway is this: respect Campbell, or he will burn you. Hell, he might burn you anyways.

Bryan Ruiz - Over the last few years, Ruiz has grown from a brash youngster to a steady presence in Costa Rica's attack, and a proven performer in the English Premier league with Fulham. He can create from behind the striker, he can work from the wings, he can even be the guy up top in a pinch. He's versatile, he's talented, and he's become a good enough leader on and off the pitch that he carries the armband for his country, a rare honor indeed.

Oscar Duarte - Duarte is one of Costa Rica's younger defenders at 24 and has only a dozen caps to his name, but watching him play it's clear that he's quickly becoming their most important man on the backline. He has a degree of agility that belies his size, but can play straight-up against powerful strikers as well. He can also get up the pitch, as evidenced by his work in scoring Costa Rica's second (and winning) goal against Uruguay. He's a rock at the heart of their defense, and the big stumbling block Mario Balotelli and (hopefully) Lorenzo Insigne will have to work past for Italy to get anything out of this match.

Keylor Navas - Costa Rica's keeper quietly had an outstanding season for Levante in La Liga last season, allowing just 40 goals in 39 all-competitions matches in his first full season of starting for the Spanish club. He's been Costa Rica's #1 for longer than that, though, with 53 caps and just 51 goals surrendered over the last six years, with some athletic and entertaining moments scattered around for our enjoyment. He's fiery and prone to moments of insanity, but he's also good, and that's worth it's weight in gold to a middle-ground national team like Costa Rica.

Outlook

As things stand, Costa Rica are on top of the group via goal differential. Even if they lose to Italy, it's well within the realm of possibility that they get to the knockout rounds, especially if they can get a result against an England side that was shockingly poor yesterday. They've already achieved more than anyone expected, and if they make the knockout rounds, the celebration back home might last a month.

As far as this match goes, Italy need to turn the screws hard and early, try to get an early goal or two before settling in to their normal contain and control game. This is a winnable game, but it will take Italy's focus to get the three points, they can't just look past them and half-ass things like Uruguay did, much to their chagrin.