Costa Rica's Golden Generation Earns Third Straight World Cup Finals Appearance

Costa Rica's World Cup campaign begins against Spain on Nov. 23.

I'm over two years late to The Last Dance party on Netflix having just started the documentary last week, so forgive me for this. The show really is a stunning portrayal of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson, but I'd like to propose a different direction for the sequel — Last Dance 2: Los Ticos.

Keylor Navas takes on the Jordan role, Bryan Ruiz is Pippen, Celso Borges is Rodman and Joel Campbell is Steve Kerr. 

The miniseries shows how this golden generation advanced the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup without losing a match (going out on penalties to the Netherlands) before again reaching the finals in 2018 (humiliating the USMNT twice along the way), where Brazil needed a stoppage-time winner from Neymar to salvage three points.

The 2022 World Cup then represents the "last dance" for Ruiz (36), Navas (35), Borges (34) and other potential three-time World Cup veterans like Óscar Duarte (33) and Yeltsin Tejeda (30), but the drama arrives thick and fast as Costa Rica starts out the Concacaf qualifying cycle with one win, three defeats and three draws. Everyone says they have no chance of making it to Qatar; they're too old, let go.    

But then we have Navas, leaning back in his chair, saying, "... and I took that personally." 

A sporting miracle sees Los Ticos win six and draw one of their final seven, earning them a spot in Tuesday's inter-confederation playoff against New Zealand for the right to be the World Cup's 32nd team. 

This is when our show gets really, really good. Three minutes in at Al Rayyan Stadium in Qatar, 17-year-old Jewison Bennette finds himself clear on the wing and angles a low cross at Campbell. 

His goal against Uruguay at the 2014 tournament will always stand out, but Campbell creates another one for the history books by stealing between New Zealand defenders and steering home the 25th of his Costa Rica career.  

The 1-0 lead stands until halftime with Navas doing what he does best: repelling shots and hurling himself at the feet of attackers with no regard for his own well-being. This is Costa Rica's version of the Chicago Bulls' triangle offense.

Let it be known that New Zealand resorted to the dark arts long before its Concacaf opponent. In the 36th minute, 6-3 big-man striker Chris Wood tried to buy a penalty, but after harnessing Costa Rica's rage at his actions, the figurehead of Newcastle's sexy new future had the ball in the back of the net.

However, VAR thought 20-year-old All Whites midfielder Matthew Garbett had been guilty of a foul before providing the service for Wood, and the referee agreed after consulting the monitor.

You get these late calls when you're the focus of an imaginary upcoming docuseries.

Another clear look at an equalizer for New Zealand failed to materialize after the half, and the All Whites adopted a more attacking shape on the hour with striker Ben Waine replacing Garbett. However, New Zealand's dream of a first World Cup since 2010 was dashed when Kosta Barbarouses' yellow card for a nasty tackle on Francisco Calvo was upgraded to red after VAR review. Barbarouses was only on the pitch for nine minutes. 

It was a foul by Garbett and a red-card worthy challenge from Barbarouses, so you understand the ref changing his calls, but were both examples of clear and obvious errors that demanded VAR intervention? New Zealand fans will debate you on that for the next four years. 

Navas recorded four saves for the clean sheet.

Costa Rica slots into Group E in Qatar and opens against Spain on Nov. 23 before playing Japan on Nov. 27 and Germany on Dec. 1. If they get out of that group, I'll create Last Dance 2: Los Ticos all by myself. 

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