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Brazil 2014: Group D, Costa Rica

Esteban Valverde and Leonardo Pandolfo/Al Día| El Universal
10:18Friday 06 June 2014

Campbell is known for praying before each game, something his mother requested him to do. (Photo: EFE/Peter Powel )

Joel Campbell had his mind set on entering the national team even before he was considered by the coach Ricardo La Volpe

Main profile: Joel Campbell

In March 2011 the Costa Rica team was in Honduras preparing for the under-20 World Cup as speculation increased regarding which players Ricardo La Volpe, the head coach, would select for the senior side’s upcoming friendly matches against China and Argentina.

The young players of that generation, born in 1992 and 1993, came together to get tickets to the friendly games; most did, but Joel Campbell did not. When one of his team-mates asked him if he wanted to go, he replied: ”I want to go, and I will go, but as a player.” On 18 March, La Volpe made ​​his call and Campbell was selected for the senior squad.

Campbell’s main virtue is his mentality. One may think his answer was mere youthful confidence, but it was later demonstrated to be a true reflection of his character.

“I’ve always said that success goes hand in hand with sacrifice. I’ve always said you have to think about winning. We teach him to set goals for the short, medium and long term,” says Humberto Campbell, Joel’s father.

As a son of a football family, the ball was always a fundamental part of his DNA and for his dad it was essential from an early age to learn values such as discipline and dedication. He celebrates his goals with a salute as a way to report to his cousins.

Michel, the Olympiakos coach who has had the young forward on loan from Arsenal last season said: “When you work with Campbell you notice his capacity, his desire to train”. This is definitely a family heritage. Joel has three siblings: Nekisha, Humberto and Katherine. The family is the second pillar in his life; the first is God.

In his European adventure, he found support from his girlfriend, Maria Fernanda Cascante, who accompanied him often during his three loan spells, at Lorient in France, Real Betis of Spain and Olympiakos in Greece.

Roxana Samuels, Joel’s mother, revealed that before each match her son reads psalm 27. This practice began as a recommendation from her, but it became the way in which Campbell gets ready for his performances.

During his time with Olympiakos in Greece, his coach and team-mates could see the value of having Maria with him made to Campbell. “He is fortunate to have a partner [his girlfriend] that helps in that regard. He is a player known not only for his athletic achievements, but for his ability to interact with his peers,” said Michel.

The Campbell family has a theory that they need not envy anybody or anything. “All with the same conditions, are equal,” says the father.

In soccer, the coaches that have had him during his career, define him as a fast attacker with great capacity to take on his opponents. He also has very good dribbling skills and is a good finisher.

“He is technically good and has a good definition,” evaluated Roberto Rios, the assistant to Pepe Mel, the coach during Campbell’s time on loan at Real Betis.

Ricardo La Volpe at the time was surprised by the natural ability of the attacker and even joked that he would buy him if he was at a club.

“The truth guys, I tell you today, he is a two, three million euros player, easy. But you have to work with him, he’s a guy with a great future, if I had money I would buy him,” La Volpe confessed in 2011.

Arséne Wenger, at least, was listening, and moved to sign the then 19-year-old from Deportivo Saprissa, the leading Costa Rican club. In August 2011 Campbell moved to Arsenal, but London was not destined to be his home any time soon.

His failure to qualify for a work permit meant that he was immediately loaned out to the French club Lorient, where he scored three goals in the 2011-12 season.

The following season, in Spain with Betis, Campbell got to work on what was at the time considered to be his weakness; his defensive work.

He developed under the orders of Mel, who had a brief and unhappy stint at West Bromwich Albion last season, a game where he focused on pressing opposing defenders and working hard to win back possession. That has helped him no end and, as Manchester United found out in the Champions League last season, there is no doubting his finishing ability. England and Roy Hodgson will be hoping they do not see more evidence of it in Belo Horizonte on 24 June.

His goal against United showed how far he has come. He is still only 21, and while the speculation is rife that Wenger will sign one or two big-name strikers this summer, don’t be too surprised if Costa Rica’s Campbell forces his way into the reckoning at the Emirates come August, by which time a few more people may know his name.


Jorge Luis Pinto’s favourite formation is 5-4-1 although it often appears to be more of a 5-2-3. He always uses three centre-backs, and two full-backs who are not entirely free to attack all the time, but are certainly expected to do so whenever they can.

In midfield he uses a defensive midfielder and a more versatile one next to him, preferably a good long-ball player. Which leaves three out and out attacking players, two offensive wingers and one striker.

The tactical picture changes depending on the match. When the opponents have the ball and attacks, Pinto likes his two central midfielders to sit deep and make the first line of defense, with the back five behind them.

When Los Ticos go on the attack, the line of five becomes three and almost reverts to a 3-4-3, or 4-3-3 if only one full-back attacks, which is a tactic Pinto sometimes employs.

With Everton’s Bryan Oviedo ruled out by his broken leg, Pinto must find a replacement left-back. Costa Rica are likely to start the World Cup against Uruguay on 14 June with the goalkeeper Keylor Navas (Levante), behind the three centre-backs Michael Umaña (of the Costa Rican club Saprissa) Geancarlo González (Columbus Crew) and Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls). Rosenborg’s Cristian Gamboa will start on the right side with young Columbus Crew defender Waylon Francis a possible replacement for the stricken Oviedo.

In midfield Yeltsin Tejeda (Saprissa) is the first-choice defensive anchorman and Celso Borges (AIK, Sweden) will be the more advanced of the two. The wingers will be Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz who spent the second half of last season on loan at PSV Eindhoven, and Christian Bolaños (Copenhagen), and the skilful young Arsenal striker Joel Campbell , who was on loan at Olympiakos last season, will be the centre-forward.

For Pinto there is nothing more important than tactical discipline. Beyond the talent or the ability to make a difference, for the Costa Rica manager it is essential that footballers do what he asks of them. Those who don’t will find themselves out of the team.

Perhaps this is why many characterize him as a strict, technical head coach who tends to limit many of his players. But the truth of the matter is that this formula gave him a lot of success in qualifying, and in such a challenging group with Italy, England and Uruguay, pragmatism is Costa Rica’s best hope of progress.

Who is the player who is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?

The best known names of Costa Rica’s national team are those of Bryan Ruiz, Keylor Navas, Joel Campbell and Álvaro Saborio, but there is a player of a lower profile who proved in qualifying to be a great find for Los Ticos - the right wing-back Cristian Gamboa.

The 24-year-old who plays for Rosenborg in Norway appeared at the end of the first phase of qualifying and then established himself as one of the pillars of the team in the final round of the road to Brazil. Gamboa played 1,742 minutes in the qualifying games, even scoring a goal, though he is not known for his offensive qualities.

He is the fastest player in the team and that speed combined with the strength that he has made sure ​​that opponents’ attacks will be limited on this flank, because beating Gamboa in a one-on-one is not easy.

Who is the player who is going to disappoint the most?

The expectations placed on the captain Bryan Ruiz for this World Cup are very high, but the Fulham player could fall short. It is likely that Uruguay, England and Italy do not give space to him and mark strong, which often limits the performance of Costa Rica’s referents.

What is the realistic aim for your team and why?

Get past the group stage is the goal of Costa Rica. Beyond being in the group of death, the Ticos point to match their performance at Italia 90, when they debuted in the World Cup reaching the round of 16. During 2002 and 2006, the goal was not achieved, actually in Germany the central American team even got a point, which disappointed the country. The coach Jorge Luis Pinto is sure that Costa Rica will be the surprise in Brazil and sees his team classifying along with Italy.


Costa Rica will play at their fourth World Cup in Brazil and ever since their historic debut at Italia ‘90 the Borges surname has accompanied the Tricolor. Celso’s father, Alexandre Borges Guimarães, Brazilian by birth but with Costa Rican nationality, was one of the players who stunned the soccer world by reaching the knockout stages at the expense of Scotland and Sweden before going out to Czechoslovakia in the last 16. After he had hung up his boots “Guima”, as he is known, was the coach of Costa Rica when they qualified for the World cups of Korea and Japan in 2002 and Germany in 2006. Now it is the turn of his son to continue the family legacy at Brazil 2014.

Álvaro Saborío

The top scorer in Costa Rica’s current squad with 32 goals from his 93 caps, the 32-year-old Saborío was born in La Cruz, one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods of San Carlos, a rural zone in the north of the country. The soccer player was raised by his mother Marleny and it was there where he started playing in the streets. His father Álvaro McDonald, is also a former Costa Rican football player, didn’t recognized Saborío until he was an adult and started playing with Deportivo Saprissa, one of the biggest teams in the country.

Randall Brenes

Few people know why the striker Randall Brenes identifies himself in such way with his club Cartaginés. ‘El Chiqui’, as he is known, has always played with this team in the province of Cartago, which is the oldest of club in Costa Rica. Brenes, a son of this province, was born in a poor family in the neighbourhood of Pitaya, when he began playing minor league soccer with the white and blue club, he had to work on a photocopier to have enough money to travel by bus to get to the stadium and train with his team. The bond that was created from that time between the player and the team of Cartago was very big. Years later when he was one of the most sought strikers of Costa Rica, Alajuelense and Saprissa, the biggest and most successful teams in the country and where all players aspire to play, tried to sign Brenes, but he declined. These soccer clubs are more powerful economically than Cartaginés and they offered more money to him, but the player chose to stay in his beloved team where he had played for years and where the fans considered him a hero and a representative worthy of their province.

Heiner Mora

In May 2013, the Heiner Mora said “Yes, I thought of killing myself, you know that many are afraid to say this, but I thought about it”.  A year ago Mora was playing for Honefoss in Norway, but he was very sad and tired because his kids were in Costa Rica and he started to have suicidal thoughts. He decided to return to Costa Rica, despite the consequences. At present, Mora is still disputing a legal problem in FIFA about his exit from Norway, but on the pitch he became a Costa Rican champion with Saprissa and is a lot happier now he is heading for Brazil and the World Cup.

Jorge Luis Pinto

Until now, a coach has never completed the World Cup qualification process for Costa Rica.
Jorge Luis Pinto managed it and qualified for his first World Cup as a result. Pinto got his World Cup finals trip at his third attempt. In the past he tried with Costa Rica in 2004, but was dismissed after qualifying at the end of the hexagonal phase. Then with Colombia in 2007 he was also removed from his position early. Pinto finally reached what he called “the dream of a lifetime”, to go to a World Cup.