After a frustrating draw against Switzerland, Brazil will be raring to score a big win against easier opposition.
Brazil vs. Costa Rica
Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, June 22, 2018
Kickoff: 8:00 AM EDT / 9:00 AM BRT / 12:00 PM GMT
US TV: FS1, Telemundo
Starting Lineup: Alisson; Fagner, Thiago Silva (C), Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro, Paulinho, Coutinho; Willian, Gabriel Jesus, Neymar.
Zetona’s Opposition Profile™:
Current Form: Costa Rica’s current form is terrible. They come into this game having lost two of their last eleven matches, including their opening game against Serbia. Belgium quite comfortably blew them out 4-1 in their last preparatory friendly, and before then England struggled to break them down but still notched a relatively untroubled 2-0 win. Their only two wins in this span (indeed, the only times they scored between last November and that Belgium friendly) were 1-0 over Scotland and 3-0 over Northern Ireland. Last November, Spain beat them 5-0. It’s worth noting, though, that they came into the 2014 World Cup with a similar (albeit not quite as bad) record. (But then again, they’ve already lost, which they never did in the last World Cup.)
Style: Costa Rica’s strategy will almost certainly be to sit back with a five-man defense and try and pounce whenever we cough up the ball. They’re not as good as they were four years ago in this regard, but they’re still organized enough to stifle opposing attacks and have enough individual talent and attacking chemistry to get forward well whenever they get the chance—indeed, they played quite well against Serbia, even in defeat, matching them in both total shots and shots on target, as well as winning the position game. But against really good teams, the talent gap tends to be too much. In their recent friendly against England, they did a very good job of keeping the opposition at bay, aside from a Marcus Rashford stunner to open the scoring, and got up the field well to create a handful of half-chances—but these were few and far between and they couldn’t really create any truly threatening opportunities, while England kept knocking on the door and eventually scored a second to clinch the victory.
Recent World Cup Record: Los Ticos were the unequivocal surprise package of the 2014 World Cup. Drawn into seemingly the toughest group in the tournament, they came from behind to trounce Uruguay 3-1, beat Italy 1-1, and draw 0-0 with England to top the group. They beat Greece on penalties in the round of 16 and took eventual third-place finishers the Netherlands all the way in the quarterfinal, only losing on penalties. They finished the tournament unbeaten in regulation play and, with just two goals conceded, boasting the best defensive record of anybody.
It looks unlikely that they’ll be able to repeat that success this time. The mastermind of that 2014 campaign, Jorge Luis Pinto, stepped down after the World Cup, and the results under Óscar Ramírez haven’t been as good. With the opening loss to Serbia, Costa Rica seem to be heading for another group-stage exit like in 2002 and 2006. In 2002, they lost out to Turkey on goal difference; in 2006, they lost all three of their games, conceding nine in the process.
Brazil’s Last Game Against Them: Brazil has played Costa Rica nine times and won all nine, but the games tend to vacillate between 1-0 wins and blowouts. I was in attendance for the last game we played against them back in 2015, which fell into the former category. Neymar was on the bench to start the game, since he was suspended for the following month’s pair of World Cup qualifiers and the team needed practice without him. With Douglas Costa in Neymar’s place, Brazil went ahead early through Hulk and then didn’t seem too interested in creating much else of note (not the first time we’d seen that happen under Dunga). That ended up being the only goal, though both sides had goals in the second half wrongly chalked off due to offside. Brazil was by some distance the better side but could easily have come away with only a draw. Here’s a highlight reel which doesn’t include Douglas Costa’s disallowed goal. The real highlight of the game, though, was the line of people behind me who were amusingly, extremely wrong about everything that was going on. “Dude, is that Oscar?” they said at one point, of Lucas Lima. Oscar wasn’t even in the squad.
Before 2015, Brazil last faced Costa Rica in 2011, also winning 1-0, albeit in one of the worst performances of the Mano Menezes dark age. Los Ticos genuinely dominated the game and created more chances, but couldn’t put any of them away on very a bad pitch, and finally Brazil’s greater quality told with a late winner from Neymar.
Brazil’s World Cup Record Against Them: Twice we’ve faced Costa Rica at the World Cup. 1990 was another 1-0 victory for us (off a first-half goal from Müller), while our 2002 clash was one of the most memorable of that or any tournament—the sort of attacking affair so open-ended that you can genuinely say it’s shocking that it only ended 5-2. Ronaldo had two goals within the first thirteen minutes (and yet somehow didn’t finish with a hat-trick), Edmilson made it 3-0 before halftime with a memorable bicycle kick, Costa Rica got back in the game with goals from Paulo Wanchope and Ronald Gómez, and then a rapid-fire pair of goals from Rivaldo and Júnior restored Brazil’s advantage. It’s worth watching the highlights again—this game really could have ended 8-5.
Opposing Player To Watch: While Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz can certainly cause Brazil problems, goalkeeper Keylor Navas is the one most capable of frustrating our attempts to secure what should be a fairly comfortable win. He’s one of several keepers to put in an inspired performance already, and with the seeming reluctance of the World Cup ball to go into the net from open play, a bad day in front of goal from our forwards could result in a narrow scoreline.
As runners-up, I’ll nominate Marco Ureña, Christian Bolaños, and Giancarlo González, all three of whom clocked in among the ten fastest running speeds of the first round of games. The former two are forwards, which could mean problems for our fullbacks, while the latter is a center-back who might be able to mop up our attempts to loose a player on the break.
Prediction: Brazil 3-0 Costa Rica. Brazil will be looking for blood after a frustrating opening-match draw against Switzerland, and will take out those frustrations on what should be an easier opponent. Goal difference might play into how Tite decides to approach this game—a two-goal margin of victory should ensure, if I’ve done my math right, that we’ll advance from the group with any draw against Serbia on the final matchday, which is as good an incentive as any to not sit back on a one-goal lead like we did against Switzerland. Tite has chosen the same starting lineup that won 3-0 against Austria, a team that also plays with five at the back, and he’ll be hoping for some similar magic here.