Costa Rica isn’t fooling around in its initial World Cup warm-up tonight.
The Ticos face Japan in Tampa, Florida at 7 p.m. local time (9 p.m. EST) in the first of two friendlies in the United States before the World Cup begins in Brazil on June 12. After Monday’s match, Costa Rica will face Ireland in Philadelphia on June 6.
After wrapping up the team’s training camp last week and selecting the 23-man roster for the World Cup, Costa Rica will head full speed into the match against the Samurai Blue. La Sele hasn’t played an international match since a 2-1 victory over Paraguay in San José last March. The team plans to get any rust out tonight, in addition to solving some personnel issues.
“We’re not going to hide anything,” head coach Jorge Luis Pinto told media today. “We are going to test many players that will be with us at the World Cup.”
Pinto will to take a close look at the team’s offense as it tries to figure out how to score without Álvaro Saborío, who led the Ticos in goals during qualifying with eight. Doctors discovered a broken fifth metatarsal in Saborío’s right foot last Thursday, ending the forward’s World Cup dreams and delivering a devastating blow to the team. Costa Rica will rely on 21-year-old whiz kid Joel Campbell to direct the attack, along with captain Bryan Ruiz.
In addition, Pinto will evaluate veteran Junior Diaz as he tries to replace injured top left back Bryan Oviedo, who will miss the World Cup with a broken leg. If Diaz disappoints Pinto, he could end up heeding his position to Waylon Francis, a talented defender who’s untested with La Sele.
Pinto emphasized the importance of a victory during the exhibition match. He believes a win will bring stability to a Tico team still shellshocked losing Saborío for the tournament.
The Colombian-born Pinto also thinks a strong match against Japan will help La Sele prepare for Italy, which Costa Rica challenges on June 20 in Recife. The Japanese team is coached by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni. Pinto says Japan now plays a similar style to what the Costa Rican national team does.
Zaccheroni however downplayed that advantage.
“Even though I’m Italian, we have a lot of different systems,” Zaccheroni said. “And strategies differ with the coach, so I’m not sure how the strategies can help you for the national team.”
Japan is one of the few teams participating in the World Cup with a worse FIFA ranking than Costa Rica. Costa Rica ranks 34th while Japan places 47th. The Samurai Blue will compete in Group C at the World Cup against Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast, opening against the African side on June 14.
The Asian champions were welcomed into their Florida beachfront resort Sunday as players try and adjust their bodies to the hot and humid conditions they will face when they arrive in Brazil next Saturday.
Costa Rica, in one of the most difficult groups, will compete with Italy, England and Uruguay in Group D. The Ticos open with Uruguay on June 14 in Fortaleza.
“We are going to do what it’s necessary to win, to compete,” Pinto said in Tampa. “We’re not going to the World Cup for the sake of simply being there.”
Anywhere between 800 to 1,500 Costa Ricans are expected to attend tonight’s match at Raymond James Stadium, according to La Nación.
Expected starting line-up for Costa Rica: Keylor Navas (Goalie) – Christian Gamboa, Giancarlo González, Roy Miller, Michael Umaña, Junior Díaz – Yeltsin Tejeda, Cristian Bolaños, Celso Borges, Bryan Ruiz – Joel Campbell.
The AFP contributed to this report.