Little by little, Costa Rica’s men’s national football team, “La Sele,” is heading back in the right direction. La Sele jumped two spots to 40th in the always hotly debated FIFA rankings, updated Thursday to reflect results from international friendlies in October.
In the third and fourth games under new head coach Óscar Ramírez, the Ticos lost at home to South Africa in a frustrating match where longstanding criticisms over the offense manifested on the field again. But Ramírez and Costa Rica responded by beating the United States in New Jersey a few days later. Against a U.S. team trending downwards, La Sele’s offense looked in control the entire match and had multiple scoring opportunities while keeping star goalkeeper Keylor Navas mostly unoccupied.
There’s still a long way to go before Costa Rica matches its best-ever ranking of 13th, where it peaked in March of this year on the heels of a historic World Cup run in 2014.
Costa Rica will have a chance to jump even higher when it begins World Cup qualifying play on Nov. 13, with a home game at the National Stadium in San José against CONCACAF rival Haiti. La Sele then plays Panama on Nov. 17 in the second of six total matches for the round, which extends through Sept. 6, 2016. Along with Haiti and Panama, Costa Rica is in Group B with Jamaica, which looked impressive on its way to a second-place finish in the CONCACAF Gold Cup earlier this year.
Ramírez will announce his lineup for the first two qualifying matches on Friday, which will not include Navas who is dealing with a groin injury that flared up again at the end of Tuesday’s record-setting performance against Paris St. Germain in the Champions League. The Real Madrid goalkeeper also will sit out for the club’s next game on Saturday against Sevilla.
FIFA’s new batch of rankings also see Belgium taking over the top spot after being ranked third last month. With a young and extremely talented squad, the “Red Devils” are a prohibitive favorite to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Current title-holder Germany remains in second place and former No. 1 Argentina drops two spots to third in the rankings.
Along with Costa Rica, the only other top 40 teams in the region are Mexico (24) and the United States (33).