Costa Rica will become a part of soccer history this weekend. That's because they will host their Group B opener against Nicaragua Sunday night on their home field. It will mark the first time that a Gold Cup game has been hosted on Costa Rican soil. And this comes at a time when "Los Ticos" have significantly built up their international standing. This year will mark the ninth straight Gold Cup appearance for Costa Rica's National Football Team and their 11th qualifying appearance overall.
They were second in 2002, finished third in 1993, 2009, and 2017, and placed fourth in both 1991 and 2003. In fact, 1998 was the only year in which Costa Rica didn't advance past the group stage, and their record at the Gold Cup stands at 19-18-14. Being able to start this tournament on their home field should provide plenty of motivation.
Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua
When: Sunday, June 16 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica (San Jose, Costa Rica)
TV: FOX or FS1 and Univision
Three Things to Watch
1. Costa Rica has what it takes to win the Gold Cup
In addition to their strong showings in previous Gold Cups, Costa Rica has also impressed at other international events. They've won eight Copa Centroamericana titles (1991, '97, '99, 2003, '05, '07, '13, '14), three CONCACAF Championships (1963, '69, '89), and seven of the only 10 CCCF Championships ever contested (1941, '46, '48, '53, '55, '60, '61). They also won a silver medal at the 1951 Pan American Games. Costa Rica has even been invited to South America's version of the Gold Cup, Copa America, on four occasions where they reached the quarterfinals twice (2001, '04).
Costa Rica has also played in three Summer Olympics (reached the quarterfinals in 2004) and has made five trips to the FIFA World Cup (reached the Round of 16 in 1990). Midfielder Bryan Ruiz is one of Costa Rica's all-time greats. He ranks third in team history with 125 caps, and fifth with 25 goals scored. He's the backbone of this unit and he'll be leaned on heavily if they want to finally win this tournament.
2. Don't underestimate Nicaragua
The Blue and White, as they are nicknamed, have been slowly building up their international status. The only championships under their belts are a silver medal (1973) and four bronze medals (1977, '86, '90) in the Central American Games (which they've participated in nine times), but they've made other strides as well. Those other strides include qualifying for every Copa Centroamericana which has been played every two years since 1991, six of the 10 CCCF Championship tournaments, and two appearances at both the Pan American Games (1975, '91), and the Gold Cup precursor known as the CONCACAF Championship (1963, '67). Unfortunately, they've never qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
As far as this event goes, this is the second straight appearance for Nicaragua. Their first appearance was back in 2009 but they have yet to advance past the group stage. Their record in this tournament is currently 0-6. There's always room for improvement but the fact that they are back at the Gold Cup speaks volumes. Nicaragua is led by midfielder Juan Barrera (50 caps, 18 goals).
Being regional neighbors means that these two teams have played each other on numerous occasions. They've gone head-to-head 12 times with Costa Rica posting an 11-0-1 record and outscoring Nicaragua 50-8. So familiarity will play a huge role in this matchup.
As much as I'd like to see Nicaragua get the upset, home-field advantage and Costa Rica's string of success will be too much to handle. Costa Rica sends their fans home happy.
Prediction: Costa Rica 4, Nicaragua 2
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.