A late replacement for Japan, Costa Rica have sent a young team to Argentina for the Copa America 2011 with their focus firmly on qualification for World Cup 2014, with the newly-added priority of restoring some prestige to the national team after a disappointing showing in this summer’s Gold Cup.
The largely under-23 squad features just three players aged 24 and over and nine members awaiting their first full cap, and, not only are Costa Rica’s Copa America players inexperienced on the world stage, but the majority have never tasted football outside their native country – and one of those is at school in the United States. Francisco Calvo, 18, plays his football for San Jacinto College of Texas, the establishment where the late Patrick Swayze studied gymnastics. The other player currently plying his trade in a league outside the Central American country is playmaker forward Diego Madrigal, 22, who has been at Paraguay’s Cerro Porteno since January 2011. Madrigal, a member of the Costa Rica side that finished in fourth place at the 2009 World U-20 Cup in Egypt, comes into the tournament as one of the side’s most promising players.
Madrigal is not the only veteran of the 2009 competition in Africa to form part of Coach Ricardo La Volpe’s squad two years on. Joining Madrigal are goalkeepers Minor Alvarez and Danny Carvajal, defender Pedro Leal, midfielders David Guzman and Allen Guevara, and forwards Jose Alejandro Castro and Josue Martinez. Escaping a group containing Brazil and Australia in the youth tournament – recovering from a 5-0 thrashing by the South Americans in their opening game to defeat the Young Socceroos 3-0 in their next outing – Costa Rica went on to beat the hosts in the second round and the United Arab Emirates in the quarter-final before coming unstuck against the mighty Brazilians again in the semi-final. A penalty shootout defeat by Hungary in the third-place playoff soon followed, but Costa Rica had exceeded all expectations and impressed many with their vibrant young team, the backbone of which has travelled to Argentina.
However, having exited the Gold Cup via a penalty shootout loss to Honduras at the quarter-final stage, a strong reply is demanded, but not expected. In a group containing the hosts, much-fancied and Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina, a dangerous Colombia featuring in-demand striker Radamel Falcao and the side regarded as the weakest in South America, but still a side not to be discounted, Bolivia, Costa Rica’s expectations are understandably low. A good account is likely the most La Bicolor can hope for, but they maintain in their ranks players of good promise. Striker Joel Campbell, the 19-year-old currently playing at home for Saprissa, has reportedly attracted interest from Italy, while his forward partner Martinez is considered one of the country’s brightest talents. With the experienced former Mexico Coach La Volpe in the dugout, Costa Rica can be assured that what knowledge they lack on the field, they still possess off it, but the tournament remains primarily a learning experience.
One to watch – Joel Campbell: The young striker has been compared by some to Costa Rica’s most famous export and second highest scorer in history, former West Ham United, Derby County and Manchester City striker Paulo Wanchope. A decent tournament could speed the 20-year-old’s rumoured move to Italy.
Mora – Acosta – Duarte – Leal
Guzman – Cubero
Guevara – Madrigal – Brenes