Campbell leads charge for Costa Rica

Joel Campbell in action for Costa Rica. (Fernando Vergara/AP)

Name: Joel Nathaniel Campbell Samuels
Born: June 26, 1992, in San Jose, Costa Rica
Position: Striker
Pro Club: Arsenal

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Why is he in the news?

Everyone loves an underdog story, and the World Cup has provided in spades, with Costa Rica the biggest underdog who’s risen the highest during the group stage in Brazil. Joel Campbell has been a big reason for Los Ticos coming out on top in a group of where they were expected to be the easy team to beat.

Since Campbell scored in the 54th minute of Costa Rica’s first game, tying things up with Uruguay, not only have the Central Americans not been easy to beat—they’ve gone unbeaten. The 22-year-old Campbell made a huge statement in that first game, getting an assist and earning man-of-the-match honours in the against-the-odds 3-1 win.

Though he was kept off the scoresheet against Italy and England, Campbell’s presence has had an impact. He’s continued to devil opposing defenders, garnering extra attention specifically because of the ability he showed in the opener. He arguably should have had a penalty against Italy, whose experienced defenders struggled against Campbell, even in his isolated role as lone striker.

He’s special because

Campbell has that much-coveted ability to create chances as well as finish them. As much as he’s shown his ability to lead the line for Costa Rica in this World Cup, he showed his ability to support his fellow attackers in his club season in Athens, even bagging four assists in one game for Olympiacos.

Add to that his strength, speed and willingness to both take defenders on and get back to contribute defensively, and you’ve got a more impressively complete player than your run-of-the-mill goal poacher.

Club career

A classic Arsene Wenger signing, Campbell was young and unknown when Arsenal plucked from the obscurity of Costa Rica’s domestic league in 2011. Unable to secure a work permit for the UK due to his relative lack of international caps, he’s been cutting his teeth on the continent, growing steadily in loan spells at Lorient and Real Betis. By last season he’d earned his work permit, but was sent on loan to Olympiacos in 2013-14, scoring 11 goals, including a Champions League tally in the Greek side’s win over Manchester United. Campbell is set to get his chance to break into Arsenal’s first team next season, as the Londoners are looking to augment their attacking options beyond French workhorse striker Olivier Giroud.

International career

For a 22-year-old, Campbell has a decent haul of international caps for Costa Rica, having made 35 appearances for Los Ticos since 2011, bagging 10 goals. What’s more, despite his youth, Campbell is playing in his third major international tournament, having scored a goal on his senior debut in the 2011 Gold Cup (CONCACAF’s regional championship) and in the 2011 Copa America (in which Costa Rica competed as an invitee).

His most famous moment

It’s a recent one, but it’s the goal that launched the youngster to breakout star status at this World Cup. This cool finish against Uruguay was the first surprise of a shocking run from the Costa Ricans.

Interesting fact

Campbell had played just 389 minutes of professional senior-level club soccer—in the Costa Rican league, ranked a lowly 38th amongst world soccer leagues—before Arsenal signed him to a long-term deal.

He said it

“We always believed we could do this. Football is not decided by the shirt you are wearing. With work and effort, you can win against anyone. We are very satisfied, very happy with what we have achieved but we will keep working to do more. This is unforgettable. We are part of history. Nobody would have put a single dollar on this team qualifying but there you go. It can change football in Costa Rica. These are the best days of my career.”

What they’re saying about him

“[England defenders] Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill need be wary: it became quickly evident that [Costa Rica’s] out ball to their solo striker could be more than productive. The man of the match Joel Campbell was at times quicker than Usain Bolt behind the wheel of his Ferrari.” — Jim White, correspondent for The Telegraph, after Costa Rica’s win over Uruguay.

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