Costa Rica could pull off an unthinkable turnaround with Germany upset

Costa Rica lost their first match of the World Cup 7-0, but bounced back against Japan.
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Records state that nobody has ever been killed directly by a sloth. Sure, there have been times when nature’s answer to that week between Christmas and New Year has lost its cool and taken a bite out of some overly-tactile tourist or other, and we have no way of knowing whether or not they order hits out on their fellow jungle species like some treetop canopy Mafioso (Three-Toed-ny Soprano, anyone? Anyone?), but by and large, these affronts to Darwinism have remained true to their caricatured reputation; pacifistic, harmless, and above all, very... very... very... slow. How fitting, then, that they are the national animal of Costa Rica.

The central Americans could hardly have started their World Cup campaign in a more slothful manner. A 7-0 defeat to Spain’s kindergarten death squad inspired more sympathy than derision, which is never an encouraging augury of a nation’s fortunes. To worsen matters, there is little dispute that Costa Rica’s squad is in a relatively shoddy condition. The biggest names, the likes of Keylor Navas and the two Bryans, Oviedo and Ruiz, are all the dark side of 30, while their promising young crop, Sunderland’s Jewison Bennette among them, are yet to come to any meaningful semblance of fruition. To be fair, pinning an entire country’s hopes on a teenager who still gets the bus home from outside the Stadium of Light on a match day was always going to be a big ask.

Teams at World Cup finals rarely recover from the kind of hiding that Costa Rica endured last week. Since the turn of the millennium, just two nations have lost by seven or more goals in the group stage of the competition. In 2002, Germany put eight past Saudi Arabia without reply, while Portugal scored seven against North Korea eight years later in a result that even state broadcasters must have to conceded was a little one-sided. Neither the Saudis or the Koreans picked up a single point in their respective campaigns, and the latter’s consolation strike in a 2-1 defeat to Brazil was the most unlikely moment of sporting prowess in the insular dictatorship’s recent history since Kim Jong-Il shot a 38-under par in his first ever round of golf, only to retire from the sport immediately after. The man made Jay from The Inbetweeners look like Abraham Lincoln.

And so, Costa Rica, the welts from their whipping still weeping ever so slightly, headed into their second group stage match against Japan with the odds, and the weight of precedent, stacked against them. For their part, the Japanese had caused one of the upsets of the initial exchanges of the tournament by coming from behind to beat Germany just days earlier. That shock, combined with their organisational tenacity and the apparent fragility of a wilting Costa Rican side, were enough to convince many of yet more looming misery for Luis Fernando Suarez’s men. So, football being football, of course Japan bottled it - insert sake joke here - and the Central Americans won.

Perhaps in an of itself, the 1-0 victory wasn’t particularly remarkable. The two nations are separated by just seven places in the FIFA World Rankings, after all. On the day, Japan registered more efforts on goal, dictated more possession, made more passes, had a better passing accuracy, won more corners - basically did everything but score more goals. Simply put, things quite easily could have been very different. But given Costa Rica’s prior faceplant, any positive result was bound to be met with a certain measure of astonishment.

It is quite unthinkable, but after losing their opening match 7-0, they still have a mathematical chance of making the knockout stages. To do so, however, they’re going to need at least a draw against Germany, and a hearty dose of succour from recent tormentors, Spain. One seems more probable than the other. In short, if these Costa Rican sloths are to realise the preposterous and fully atone for one of the heaviest defeats the World Cup finals has ever seen, they must do the inconceivable; kill somebody off.