When the 2014 World Cup groups were announced and Costa Rica was dumped in Group D with the unprecedented trio of past champions in Italy, England, and Uruguay, it was widely assumed by those unfamiliar with Costa Rica that it would be the sacrificial lamb for the three bigger teams fighting for the top two spots. But now it's beaten Uruguay 3-1 and proven it wasn't a fluke by beating Italy 1-0, sealing its place in the knockout stage and putting it in position to win the group. In other words, Costa Rica is the twist ending to the M. Night Shyamalan film that is the Group of Death.
So to get you up to speed with the World Cup's most surprisingly formidable team, here's everything you need to know about Costa Rica:
-The team's nickname is Los Ticos (a colloquial term for Costa Ricans).
-Currently ranked 28th in the world by FIFA. The highest ever FIFA rank was 17th in 2003.
-Premier League fans will know captain Bryan Ruiz, as he plays for (recently relegated) Fulham, and Joel Campbell, who is owned by Arsenal, but has been out on loan spells with Lorient, Real Betis, and Olympiacos. Costa Rica also has three MLS players in defenders Giancarlo Gonzalez (Columbus Crew), Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew) and Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls).
-It finished second behind the U.S. in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. It won all of its home matches (including a 3-1 win over the United States). And the U.S. only beat Los Ticos 1-0 in Denver a snow storm that Costa Rica argued should not have been played.
-Scoring four goals to beat Uruguay and Italy is impressive enough, but Los Ticos are doing this without their best scorer — Alvaro Saborio, who fractured his foot shortly before the tournament. All four of their goals have been scored by different players
-This won't be Costa Rica's first appearance in the World Cup knockout stage. In 1990, the country's first ever World Cup appearance, it won two of its four group-stage matches to reach the round of 16, where it lost to Czechoslovakia. At the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, Costa Rica failed to make it out of the group, even losing all three of its matches in 2006.
-Unlike England, it was able to neutralize Andrea Pirlo's beard (and his control of the midfield).
-Given its home climate, it's being said that the hot weather in Brazil has worked in its favor — especially against a European side like Italy. This, however, undermines its impressive tactics and work rate during these matches.
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-Striker Joel Campbell, who scored Costa Rica's first goal against Uruguay, suffered disappointment before the World Cup began when he bought 100 packs of Panini stickers and still didn't get the one bearing his image.
-Manager Jose Luis Pinto was not pleased when Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said that it would be difficult for the Central Americans to follow their win over Uruguay with another against Italy. "I am really surprised Jose Mourinho said something like that," said Pinto. "We know that Italy is a very difficult opponent but we are confident that we will be able to repeat our performance." And that confidence appears to have paid off.
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