This article is part of the Guardian’s Women’s World Cup 2023 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 20 July.
The Costa Rican national team is generating excitement and passion at home as they participate in a Women’s World Cup for only the second time, and with a generation of players considered the country’s best so far. They had a perfect preliminary round in the qualifiers, winning all four games, scoring 22 goals, and keeping four clean sheets.
In the subsequent 2022 Concacaf W Championship in Mexico, Costa Rica defeated Panama 3-0 then Trinidad and Tobago 4-0. Those victories earned Las Ticas a semi-final spot and while that match ended in defeat by the eventual tournament winners USA, the last-four finish was enough to secure qualification for the World Cup.
The team is led by coach Amelia Valverde, who has been in charge since 2015 and has a solid mix of experienced performers and young talents. Key players to watch include Raquel Rodríguez, Melissa Herrera and Priscila Chinchilla, who have consistently made a difference for the national team. However controversy arose when the former captain, Shirley Cruz, was left out of the pre-World Cup squad despite her successful career. The 37-year-old Cruz subsequently retired in June.
Valverde puts World Cup qualification down to the discipline, respect, loyalty and hard work of her players. “This national team always teaches me something new, it pushes me to improve,” she told fifa.com. “When facing adversity, the players have always remained close-knit. For us – no matter the external circumstances, the results, people’s comments or anything else – we value the players’ efforts and who they are as individuals above their role as footballers.”
Costa Rica will face Spain, Japan and Zambia in Group C, aiming to improve on their performance in 2015 and make history by reaching the knockout stage for the first time.
Amelia Valverde, a 36-year-old Costa Rican, is a physical education teacher by profession and a former player in the Primera División Femenina. She first joined Costa Rica’s coaching staff during qualification for the 2015 World Cup in Canada, unexpectedly taking charge months before the tournament began at the age of only 28. After the World Cup, Valverde continued as the head coach, facing both triumphs and setbacks, including missing out on qualification for the 2019 World Cup in France. However, she and the team bounced back to reach the 2023 event in Australia and New Zealand.
Costa Rica’s all-time leading scorer, Raquel Rodríguez is a midfielder who has reached the 100-cap milestone and scored 55 goals for the national team. The 29-year-old is a tenacious player on the field and a leader. She was the first Costa Rican woman to score in a World Cup.
“In Costa Rica, we don’t have an army, so we always say that the soccer field is like our battlefield, for lack of a better term,” she told fifa.com. “Fans want to feel proud of what they’re watching, and that’s something we want to give them.”
Alexandra Pinell, a 20-year-old midfielder, first came to attention while playing in the second division in Costa Rica. She is now expected to become one of the best players at her current club, Liga Deportiva Alajuelense, and is the captain of Costa Rica’s Under-20 team. Pinell scored a memorable 40-yard free-kick against Australia in the 2022 Under-20 Women’s World Cup. While shy off the field, she excels on it, displaying speed, game-reading skills and a powerful shot.
Did you know?
Sofía Varela, a forward for Costa Rica, has experienced two anterior cruciate ligament injuries, one in each leg. But she has never lost her joy for the game. Varela has tattoos of the Arenal Volcano, located in her home town of La Fortuna de San Carlos, and the map of Costa Rica. When she scores abroad, she proudly displays them in honour of her beloved country.
Although not professional, the women’s game in Costa Rica has been growing, with record attendances and two television channels covering matches in the Costa Rican top flight. There are 448 registered players, making it the most popular sport among young Costa Rican women, who can now find a team in their neighbourhood.
Realistic aim at the World Cup?
They face tough and diverse opponents in Group C. Costa Rica’s only previous World Cup ended with two draws and one defeat, so they will aim to surpass that, thanks to a solid coaching foundation. Reaching the knockout stage is a concrete objective. “We have very high expectations,” said Rodríguez. “We want to go there and compete. Costa Rica has never advanced past the group stage, so it’s a very specific goal for us.”
The Costa Rica team guide was written by Fiorella Montoya for La Nación in Costa Rica.