World Cup 2014: How Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz thrived on bigger stage

 

The greatest underdog story in a World Cup full of them will face its hardest test this evening when Costa Rica challenge the Netherlands in the fourth and last quarter-final. Before the tournament, it might have looked like a mismatch and yet Costa Rica have already taken the scalps of Italy and Uruguay and could certainly disrupt the Dutch.

It would be a remarkable result but Costa Rica, in terms of balance, if not quality, have been one of the teams of the tournament so far. In Jorge Luis Pinto’s 5-4-1 system, every player knows his role and is able to execute it perfectly. Despite the big names among the remaining sides, this has been – with the exception of the continued success of Argentina – a World Cup showcasing teams who have been more than a sum of their parts, such as Mexico, Colombia and the United States, against those who have not.

This has nowhere been clearer than in Costa Rica’s twin attacking threat. Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz have been excellent so far, Campbell through the middle and Ruiz playing from the right of midfield.

Both, of course, are contracted to English clubs and while their struggles to make a deep impression on the Premier League are not as important as what they do today – this is the first World Cup quarter-final in Costa Rica’s history – it does show that players can achieve things in international football that might have eluded them in the club game.

Joel Campbell has demonstrated the skill and character that Arsenal would dearly love to put to use Joel Campbell has demonstrated the skill and character that Arsenal would dearly love to put to use (AP)
Ruiz is Costa Rica’s captain and plays on the right wing, running up and down the flank with a muscular application that was not always evident in his two and a half seasons at Craven Cottage, where he played as an intelligent and subtle but not exactly dynamic No 10. But it was Ruiz who won the free-kick for Oscar Duarte’s second goal against Uruguay in the group game, Ruiz who scored the far-post header for that crucial second win against Italy and who scuffed in from the edge of the box as Costa Rica went 1-0 up against Greece.

Campbell has been excellent, too, leading the line with the selfless effort required in a team who do not dominate every game they play. Campbell ran  Uruguay ragged in the initial game, emphatically scoring the first before making  Marcos Urena’s late third. Against Greece he ran the channels and held the ball up for 120 draining minutes as his team – down to 10 men – fought to stay in the match and take it to penalties.

Pushing Memphis Depay (pictured on the right next to Wesley Sneijder) down the left wing against Mexico was crucial to the Netherlands winning Pushing Memphis Depay (pictured on the right next to Wesley Sneijder) down the left wing against Mexico was crucial to the Netherlands winning (EPA)
It showed a character and skill that Arsenal would love to believe that Campbell has. Since they signed him, Campbell has had three loan spells, at Lorient, Real Betis and Olympiakos, but is yet to settle fully into European club football.

 

But Campbell and Ruiz, with three goals so far, are truly doing it when it counts. They both had penalties to take against Greece last  Sunday night and scored them both, taking their team to the final eight. Win or lose today, these are the performances they will be remembered for.

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