World Cup Group E: 2014 dark horses Costa Rica tackle Serbia's dark arts defending
If you can cast your mind back to 2014, Costa Rica played their hearts out; with the footballing world watching on. They famously topped England’s group, meaning Uruguay finished second; dumping the Three Lions and Italy out of the World Cup. The Central American side went on to the quarter-finals. Eventually, they lost on penalties.
Now, if you can slurp that Latin American a little harder, you’ll remember Serbia’s last participation in the World Cup came in 2010. The Serbs went out at the group stage but did manage a famous 1-0 win against eventual third-placed Germany. However, two respective losses against Ghana and Australia meant that three points weren’t enough to proceed any further. Nonetheless, not many teams nor players can boast they’ve beaten the German side in the last eight years. Good on them.
Group E, however, brings these two sides together for their next World Cup adventure. This will be the two sides first-ever meeting on the football field. In a strange twist of fate though, the two countries do share a healthy political discourse. Who would have thought? Especially with the odd 10,000km+ distance between the nations.
FIFA Ranking: 23rd
Oscar Ramirez's side head into the tournament as huge underdogs in Group E. With that said, they've the potential to upset the applecart on their day. Their 4-2-3-1 system could cause problems if everyone is playing with confidence, but after this game against Serbia, things are only going to get tougher. Costa Rica will be desperate for a victory in this one. In fact, their hopes at progression into the knockout phase could hinge on claiming all three points.
Costa Rica couldn’t have a worse World Cup warm-up. They’ve lost three out of their last four matches. The lone win was against Northern Ireland who didn't even qualify for Russia. A startling thought for any Costa Rican football fan; in their last two games, they looked largely void of ideas and just couldn’t get the ball. Averaging just 34% of the football against both England and Belgium; conceding six goals in the process.
The form is interesting, yet nobody gave Costa Rica a chance four years ago - and look what happened. Can lightning strike twice?
It’s hard to believe that Campbell is still only 25 years old. He’s been sent away from Arsenal six times; playing in France, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. Oh; and he did that one-month spell where Wenger played him. He’s been through so much; yet is still younger than the author.
Whilst he’s had absolutely no consistency at the Emirates, he’s been a pillar of quality for the Costa Rica side. 75 appearances at his tender age, scoring 15 goals. That's an excellent ratio considering he plays for a CONCACAF team.
Four years ago, he started his World Cup goal account with a strike against Uruguay. There’s no reason he can’t add to his tally here with a goal or two against the Serbian backline. Should he get the service.
FIFA Ranking: 34th
By comparison, Serbia’s form isn’t white-hot; but has still yielded more riches than the central American side. They enjoyed a good qualification campaign, ousting the Republic of Ireland and Wales, who both were tipped to top the group. More recently, they’ve declined with losses to Morocco and Chile. They did, however, defeat Nigeria 2-0, draw 1-1 with South Korea and hammer non-qualified Bolivia 5-1. The latter being the last game before the tournament got underway. Their heads will certainly be with ones that are higher before kick off.
Serbia will most certainly be more at home in Samara, they should have enough to win the match. Well, I say that. It’s still some 3,000+ kilometres from Belgrade. But the climate could have been what helped the Central Americans when they were playing in Brazil last time out, it’ll certainly be a bit different for them here in Russia.
Down on the south coast of England, Tadic had a lot of work to do. Southampton was a troubled club all season club. In the end, he et al. did just enough to stir them to safety. Yet, the creative player didn’t just do it for his club – but for his country too. Four goals and seven assists made him the country’s MVP – as they topped the qualification group.
This'll be a close encounter, but Serbia's star quality should be enough to see them win. The powerful Aleksandar Mitrovic will be a handful for a porous Costa Rican back line. When you couple that with the craft of Tadic and the brilliance of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, it should be a long afternoon for the South Americans' defence.
If Ramirez's side stand any chance at victory, to a man, every single player will have to be at their best. The aforementioned Campbell will have an impact on the game, but Costa Rica will be heavily reliant on a Keylor Navas masterclass.
This game could have goals in it, but the European side should be too strong. I'm going for a slender Serbia victory.