Costa Rica vs Greece World Cup 2014 preview: Jorge Luis Pinto's faith in team ethic gives Costa Rica the edge

Colombian coach will be ordering more of the same tomorrow against Greece

Some years ago, on holiday to Costa Rica, I was struck by how every town, village and hamlet, however small, had three common elements: a school, a church, and a football pitch. Now the world is waking up to the fact that this small central American country, previously best-known for not having an army, is also obsessed with football.

Given that enthusiasm, and a population larger than Uruguay (twice winners in the early years, and also semi-finalists in 2010), Croatia (semi-finalists in 1998) and Republic of Ireland (quarter-finalists in 1990) it is perhaps surprising Costa Rica have not been more successful. It is not, however, easy to qualify from Concacaf with Mexico and United States so dominant in the north and central Americas and Caribbean region.

Nevertheless, Costa Rica have the third strongest domestic league after those two giants, a fact reflected in two players in their giant-killing side, Michael Unama and Yeltsin Tejeda, playing for Saprissa in the capital, San Jose, and a third home-based player, Cartagines’ Randall Brenes, being introduced against England.

 

Having reached Brazil, Costa Rica have prospered in the heat. Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, their captain, said beforehand that “the climactic conditions give us an advantage, in Costa Rica we are used to the humidity,” and so it has proved. They have also, as Ruiz anticipated, played as a team not a collection of individuals like some countries (Cameroon and Ghana being the more obvious examples).

This is partly down to the coach, Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto, who places great store by positional discipline and a group ethic. This has enabled Costa Rica, unlike the team that came bottom of Group D, to be more than the sum of its parts; while the bulk of the squad play in Europe only two figured in the Champions League last season: Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell with Olympiakos, and Copenhagen’s Christian Bolanos.

Joel Campbell celebrates scoring for Costa Rica Joel Campbell celebrates scoring for Costa Rica  

In this they are similar to tomorrow night’s opponents, Greece, who have largely stuck to the template established by Otto Rehhagel in winning Euro 2004. The Greeks, though, are more defensive in outlook, qualifying despite scoring only two goals in three games. Pinto will look to  emulate his countrymen who put three past Greece in their opening game causing them trouble on both flanks.

The Greeks will know all about Campbell, who scored nine goals last season for an Olympiakos side who provide three of Greece’s defensive players.

Both sides, having not expected to meet each other at this stage, have been frantically plotting since qualification on Tuesday. Tejeda said, “We were thinking more about Colombia and the Ivory Coast and in the end came the least expected team. Now we have to change the video  cassette.”

Greece manager Fernando Santos will have been even more surprised to be facing Costa Rica, though perhaps the most taken aback of all are ITV Sport, who must have hoped to have England as tomorrow evening’s primetime viewing, but now get the most unlikely knock-out tie since Portugal met North Korea at Goodison Park in 1966.

That match finished 5-3, Eusebio reviving the Portuguese after North Korea took an incredible 3-0 lead. ITV will hope tomorrow’s game is just as dramatic.

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