In such a tough group, semi-finalists from four years ago, Uruguay, will know the value of taking an early three points against Costa Rica ahead of their rivals kicking off in the later Group D game.
Luck played a literal hand in them reaching the last four last time around when Luis Suarez handled on the line and they eventually beat Ghana on penalties, and they may need a bit more luck on their side, as well as quality, if they are to get out of the group.
Costa Rica are a bit of an unknown quantity, and have subtly slipped under the radar while in the shadow of England, Italy and Uruguay. They successfully edged their way into second place in the North American qualification zone, just behind USA, and have made it clear that they’re not here simply to make up the numbers. They want to attack and enjoy their football; they may take a beating, but at least they will try.
Uruguay could steal an early march in the group, with the easiest of their three games providing the perfect opportunity for three points. They could even find themselves top of the group should England and Italy draw, so getting a good result here is vital. Much could also depend on goal difference, and Costa Rica’s role as proverbial whipping boys means teams will be out to beat them heavily.
Regardless of the outcome, one big team is going home early. Groups like this one and Group B have brought together some big nations, and early casualties are inevitable. All three of those sides have the potential to go far but, with one definitely making a group stage exit, the three rounds of group games are very interesting indeed.
Costa Rica are likely to play a team that defends in numbers but can attack at pace, and so a 5-3-2/3-5-2 variation is probable, though a 3-4-3 has also been used. Meanwhile Oscar Tabarez has stopped trying to accommodate his three attacking talents and is likely to drop the declining Diego Forlan in favour of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. However, with Suarez unlikely to quite be fit enough, he won’t be risked and Forlan is likely to slot in like he’s never been away. Those two will lead the attack as Uruguay look to strike early; the aim will be to stop Costa Rica getting comfortable and force them to defend, so the South American giants can carve them open with their deadly strike force.
Goals will be on the agenda, and Uruguay have the players to get them. They boast the defensive solidity to hold of counter attacks from Costa Rica, and so are likely to start early and strike fast and hard; all three sides will try and outscore each other against Costa Rica, and Uruguay will set the benchmark after the first match.
Costa Rica’s hopes rest on a few, mildly recognisable names, and will be hoping that they can nick a goal early and hold on, or at least hold out for a draw. Things are looking very difficult for them in this opening game, and it is unlikely to get any easier as the group stage progresses.
Uruguay’s key players are obviously the strike partnership of Suarez and Cavani, widely regarded as two of the best striker currently playing in Europe. Both are noted for their individual brilliance as well as excellent ability from set pieces, and will look to score plenty of goals and fire Uruguay into the next round and beyond. With Suarez’s absence, Forlan is likely to be the second striker and his experience may just help Uruguay settle any early nerves and dispatch Costa Rica early on. They will also be confident between the sticks, with highly-rated Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera providing a safe pair of hands at the back.
Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz is something of a talisman for his country despite struggling at club level. He is likely to take a more forward position for Costa Rica as he looks to open up defences and give his side a chance of challenging in this difficult group. Another name who will be keen to impress is Joel Campbell; the Arsenal man can play up front and on the flanks, but has found himself ushered out on loan for the majority of his career with the London club and will look to impress Arsene Wenger here ahead of the new season.
Costa Rica are unlikely to ruffle many feathers in a group consisting of such World Cup heavyweights, and their clash with Uruguay will be no different as the South American side will look to establish themselves early and win by a comfortable margin.
The aim will be to subdue their opponents and steal the lead early, hoping that it will make them more subdued and allow Uruguay to carve them open continually in their search for goals. In Forlan and Cavani, they have two very potent goal poachers who will be out to make their mark early on and cause enough issues for Costa Rica to bring their side a big win in their opening game of the tournament.
In spite of denying a defensive plan, Costa Rica may resort to damage limitation if they find themselves behind and will play into Uruguay’s hands if they sit back and allow Uruguay to get the ball to their talented front two. The most they can hope for is to hit Tabarez’s men on the break and maybe nick a goal; do it early enough and it will give them something to defend, but in all likelihood it will be only a consolation goal, and that’s if it comes at all.
Prediction: Uruguay 4-0 Costa Rica
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