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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Costa Rica and why Brazil 2014 was Concacaf's World Cup

Photo: Getty Images

We said goodbye to the Ticos via the penalty shootout versus the Netherlands yesterday. But their historic run, coupled with strong performances by USA and Mexico made one thing clear: this was Concacaf's tournament.

True, no team from Concacaf has ever made it to the semifinals, but it's not for lack of trying or quality. Indeed, the world should no longer think of Mexico as the only quality side north of Colombia. Not when quality teams like Italy, England, Croatia and Portugal have gone home courtesy of North and Central Americans teams.

Yesterday marked the fourth occasion that a team from Concacaf made it to the quarterfinals. Before it was Mexico in 1970 and 1986 (both hosted in Mexico) and USA in 2002. However, the Ticos had the hardest road of all: they won the "Champions Group": Italy, England and Uruguay. They defeated, via penalties, the 2004 Euro Champions Greece. Further, they got scored on only twice!

Concacaf also boasts the world's best goalkeepers: Ochoa, Navas and Tim Howard. In recent years there has been an increasing trend in Concacaf players transferring and succeeding in Europe: i.e. Javier Hernandez (Mexico), Clint Dempsey (USA) and Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica). In doing so, these countries have advanced their knowledge of the game and this has trickled down to players in domestic leagues.

Concacaf's exploits have surpassed Africa's. While quality sides remain in Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast, their tactics and defense have yet to fully exploit the incredible talent of attackers like Ayew (Ghana), Moses (Nigeria), or Gervinho (Ivory Coast). 

To date, the only non-UEFA or CONMEBOL team to qualify for a semifinal is South Korea (2002), when they co-hosted the World Cup with Japan. And, truthfully, were Mexico to host the World Cup, I would bet on them winning it all. They already have the talent. The same cannot be said for Team USA, not yet. But come 2026, if the tournament is hosted in America, we might have the talent to make a run for it.

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