SAN JOSE, June 6 (Reuters) - Costa Rica's chances of surviving one of the World Cup's toughest groups depend on the performance of a young striker making his mark in Europe and on figuring out how to cope without two of their best players.
The Ticos, playing in their fourth World Cup and their first since Germany 2006, face former world champions England, Uruguay and Italy in Brazil with few pundits giving them much chance of advancing.
After qualifying for the tournament in October, Jorge Luis Pinto's men were shut out in three friendlies before finally finding the net in a 2-1 victory over Paraguay in March.
While the Ticos were missing key players in those matches, the results underlined how little depth they have in the squad and how much they will rely on the goalscoring prowess of 21-year-old striker Joel Campbell.
The youngster will have to lead the attack without Alvaro Saborio, who has been ruled out of the finals with a fractured metatarsal. Saborio was Costa Rica's top scorer in World Cup qualification and his eye for goal will be sorely missed.
Campbell, who enjoyed a fine season in the Greek league winning the title on loan at Olympiakos Piraeus from Arsenal, has drawn praise from national team assistant coach Paulo Wanchope.
He scored a superb goal against Manchester United in the Champions League round of 16 in March and, although United eventually knocked Campbell's team out, his name became known to a wider audience.
"People will expect even more from him now he scored against United, he is doing well and people will expect more when he comes back to Arsenal," Wanchope said after the game.
"But he's a great talent, he is someone who can do something different in the game. When we need someone to break down the defensive players, he is someone who can really do great things for Costa Rica."
The team's back-line will also have to make do without their best defender after Everton left back Bryan Oviedo was unable to recover from a broken leg in time for the tournament in Brazil.
One area where Pinto need not worry is between the posts where Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas has impressed in La Liga.
Costa Rica, who finished second in CONCACAF qualifying behind the United States, have participated in three World Cups previously but made it out of the group stages only once, in 1990 when they beat Scotland and Sweden and narrowly lost to Brazil in the group stage.
They came up against Czechoslovakia in the second round and although they eventually lost 4-1 the match was in the balance until the closing minutes when Tomas Skuhravy completed his hat-trick of headers.
Of more immediate concern to Pinto is the upcoming games in Group D. The Ticos open the tournament against Uruguay in Fortaleza on June 14, face Italy in Recife on June 20 and play England in Belo Horizonte on June 24.
Asked what his expectations are he told World Soccer: "We're going to face three strong teams with World Cup pedigree and that will motivate us and make us get a better feeling of the tournament. It will make us react better on the pitch. We have never beaten any of them. Let's hope this is the moment." (Reporting by Michael Kahn, editing by Robert Woodward and Mike Collett)
- Sports & Recreation
- Costa Rica
- Jorge Luis Pinto