This article is part of Guardian’s World Cup 2022 Expert Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 32 qualifying countries. theguardian.com is showing previews from two countries every day ahead of the tournament, which begins on November 20.
This cycle for the Costa Rica national team can be divided into before the arrival of the coach, Luis Fernando Suárez, and after. The Colombian arrived like a whirlwind in the middle of 2021 and, despite having very little time, embarked on a generational overhaul that took everyone by surprise. He debuted 22 players in 15 months, 11 of them in qualifying. In total, he tried 77 notable players. “It was a bit too much at one point,” admitted Suárez. “Something has been lost.”
He had a rocky start, being knocked out by Canada in the quarter-finals of the 2021 Gold Cup and picking up just six points in the first seven games of World Cup qualifying. But in the tight away defeats against the United States and Canada, everything started to fall into place. A new team is taking shape, with several players either teenagers or having just turned 20 years old. 18-year-old winger Jewison Bennette is one of them and he’s part of a form transformation that nets 19 points from a possible 21 of the last seven games and an Intercontinental qualifier for a World Cup berth. Against New Zealand they produced a typical Costa Rican performance, solid in defense with two strong benches of four and goalkeeper Keylor Navas in inspiring form.
This Costa Rica side don’t score many goals (13 in 14 qualifiers) but they concede even less, with Navas extremely important and Óscar Duarte and Francisco Calvo a solid central defense. Going forward, the team rely on quick counterattacks, using the distribution skills of Celso Borges and Joel Campbell to unleash the pace of Bennette and Anthony Contreras.
So much has changed in the past 15 months that players believe La Tricolor can achieve something special. “We want to go to the World Cup with the objective of winning it. Many will say we are crazy but let them think that then,” defender Kendall Waston said.