SAN JOSE – Costa Rica will test its readiness for this summer’s World Cup in Russia with friendlies in March against Scotland and Tunisia.
The Ticos will visit Scotland on March 23 before taking on Tunisia on March 27 in Nice, France.
Costa Rica goes into those matches with big question marks about the level of key players, including defender Cristian Gamboa, who has hardly played this season for Scottish-league club Celtic; and Joel Campbell, a forward for La Liga side Real Betis who is recovering from a serious injury.
Other doubts hovering over the Central American squad are recent poor performances by striker Johan Venegas and uncertainties surrounding the form of more than a half-dozen players in the United States’ and Canada’s top league, Major League Soccer, whose current season has just gotten started.
The friendlies also will provide a chance for Oscar Duarte, a defender for La Liga side Espanyol, to return to the national team after a long injury setback and for Deportivo La Coruña midfielder Celso Borges, who has seen little playing time since Clarence Seedorf took the helm of that Spanish-league club, to get himself up to game speed.
Costa Rica has no concerns at goalkeeper, though, as Keylor Navas has shown himself to be among the best in the world since joining Real Madrid after leading his team to surprise quarterfinal berth in the 2014 World Cup.
The Ticos’ head coach, Oscar Ramirez, has not yet unveiled his list of call-ups for the March friendlies, but much of the talk back home has centered on whether he should call upon strikers Jonathan McDonald and Yendrick Ruiz, two of the top goal scorers in the current Costa Rican league season.
“In March, we’re going to get some clarity. Scotland is an opponent that’s very similar to the European sides we’ll face in the World Cup. And Tunisia is different; it’s a (side that’s qualified for Russia) and will give us that high intensity we need,” Ramirez said recently.
Costa Rica will play its first Group E match at the World Cup on June 17 against Serbia in Samara. Its last two round-robin matches will be against Brazil on June 22 in Saint Petersburg and against Switzerland on June 27 in Nizhny Novgorod.
Although Costa Rica qualified relatively comfortably for this year’s World Cup, a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary in friendlies in November 2017 have left the team badly in need of a jolt of confidence.