MNUFC defender and captain Francisco Calvo embarks on his first World Cup journey with Costa Rica this weekend. Years of dedication and hard work at the club level have made him an indispensable part of the national team, and he will play a big role in Russia.
The 25-year-old has put in a ton of work to break into a strong Ticos roster. In 2014, they surpassed everyone’s expectations by reaching the quarterfinals of the World Cup, outpacing fellow CONCACAF teams Mexico and the United States. Only a loss in penalties to the Netherlands could stop them, and now they have their sights set to go even further in the tournament.
Calvo’s journey to the 2018 World Cup began back in 2011. He saw his first international action in the 2011 Copa America, playing in all three of Costa Rica’s group stage matches. It would be four years before he would be called on again, playing some friendlies and showing well at the 2015 Gold Cup. Despite an injury in early 2016, he was able to establish himself as a starter during the Copa America Centenario that year.
Calvo’s recent performances and the evolution of his game to become a scoring threat on set pieces further cemented him in the Ticos’ game plan for Russia 2018. Now he will have the responsibility of defending players like Neymar, Aleksander Mitrovic and Blerim Dzemaili on the sport’s biggest stage.
He will kick off his World Cup run against Serbia on Sunday, June 17. Serbia were surprise group winners in qualifying and will probably be challenging Costa Rica for that second-place spot. It doesn’t get easier on June 22 as they face mighty Brazil. Brazil is certainly favored to win the group, but the Ticos could surprise them and make it very interesting on the final day of group play. They conclude the round against Switzerland on June 27 to determine which two teams will advance from the group.
If Calvo and the Ticos move on, they will play either the first- or second-place team from Group F, which features Germany, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. Winning the group would be huge as it likely means avoiding Germany in the first knockout game. The reigning champions will be one of the toughest opponents to face in the whole tournament, making that first-place spot even more valuable. Coupling that with playing Brazil in the group, Costa Rica will have a very steep hill to climb if it hopes to reach the quarterfinals again.
Calvo will need to play some of the best soccer of his career to help his team go far in the World Cup. Anything can and will happen in this tournament, especially in the knockout rounds. Will Pura Vida take over Russia? We’ll soon find out.