When the draw was made for the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, it was clear to everyone watching that group D would be the group of death. Uruguay, England, and Italy were drawn in a group with Costa Rica. The first three sides had nine World Cups between them, while Costa Rica had never made it past the round of 16. Bearing that in mind, plenty of punters looked to the football betting odds as they looked to determine which of the three giants would be joining Costa Rica in not qualifying for the knock-out stages of the competition.
That isn’t how things turned out. England and Italy both struggled, while Costa Rica shone. They announced their arrival in the group with a 3-1 win over Uruguay, following that up with a 1-0 win over Italy. They ended the group stage with a 0-0 draw against England, the only point that Roy Hodgson’s side picked up during the tournament.
Costa Rica’s seven points saw them top the group, ahead of Uruguay on six. They once again found themselves in the round of 16, and after a 5-3 penalty shootout victory, they got past Greece and made it to the quarter-finals. That was a far as they got, this time losing a shootout as they were eliminated 4-3 on penalties by the Netherlands.
Eight years later, Costa Rica are back. After a disappointing 2018 World Cup, they’ll be looking to channel the spirit of 2014 in Qatar. If their qualifying tournament is anything to go by, Costa Rica could cause an upset in November. They finished fourth in CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament, on 25 points. With the top three nations gaining automatic qualification to the World Cup, they will have been frustrated to miss out. They finished on 25 points, level with USA in third, but their goal difference saw them miss out on third spot. Canada and Mexico topped the table with 28 points, and Costa Rica will be encouraged that they were only three points from the top of the group.
Finishing fourth saw Costa Rica qualify for an inter-confederation play-off, with the fifth-placed CONCACAF team playing the best placed team in the Oceania Football Confederation. That team was New Zealand, and the teams faced off in Qatar, in June, with the winner guaranteed a place at the World Cup.
Costa Rica took the lead early on in the match, with Joel Campbell converting a Jewison Bennette cross just three minutes in. New Zealand pushed for an equaliser, and thought they had it after 39 minutes, when Chris Wood pounced on a poor clearance to score, but it was disallowed for a foul by VAR. In the second half, Kosta Barbarouses was shown a yellow card for a tackle which caught Francisco Calvo’s ankle. However, after checking the replay, the referee upgraded the decision to a red card.
New Zealand, now down to 10, were unable to find an equaliser. They made their frustrations with the officiating clear, and it was a source of controversy after the event. However, Costa Rica were through, and will have their attention fixed firmly on November. Having been drawn in a group with Spain, Germany, and Japan, they won’t be fancied by many, but the draw will remind many of their draw for the 2014 World Cup, and they’ll be looking to upset the apple cart once again.