King Keylor and what he means to Los Ticos in Russia
It’s no secret that Keylor Navas is Costa Rica’s most valuable player. The Real Madrid goalkeeper had a fantastic 2014 World Cup, and since then has gone on to win three straight Champions League titles. Not bad. But for a player with so many accolades and a history of good performances in big games, a lot of people are still hesitant to give Keylor the respect he deserves.
I’m here to put a cork in the hate. Navas is the best goalkeeper alive, no doubt about it. There are some great contenders out there, especially when Manuel Neuer is healthy, but if I needed to pick any goalie to play in the World Cup final for my team tomorrow, give me Keylor.
And while we could debate the top three goalkeepers in the world for some time, the point of this high praise is to help establish exactly how important Navas is to this Costa Rica team. If you’ve watched their warm-up matches, you’ll have noticed Los Ticos are not very good at defending. With your average goalie from the 2018 field, Costa Rica might’ve given up way more than 2 goals to England, and the Belgium game could’ve been even uglier than it was.
While the Ticos are hitting a dip in form their past two matches, Navas is peaking. His reflexes remain lightning quick. His positioning is still great. It’s very apparent that if Costa Rica performs well again this time around, Navas will be the player most responsible. And with a tough group that includes Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia, they’ll need him. We saw Memo Ochoa put in a superhuman performance against Brazil at the last World Cup to pick up a crucial point for El Tri, and I don’t think it’s impossible that Navas does the same.
Obviously, Keylor can’t help Costa Rica score any goals, and it will be up to the offense to get a few past either the Swiss or the Serbians (hopefully both), but the team is capable of scoring goals. Bryan Ruiz is one other player who seems to be peaking at the right time, and his play alone can be enough to create the goals that Los Ticos need.
But the defense is not going to be able to hold off Brazil or Switzerland, not a chance. And that’s where it falls on Navas. He’ll be working twice as hard as his opposing counterpart in every match most likely, but as long as that defense can keep the opposition from setting up empty-netters, Navas IS capable of saving just about anything they throw his way. Even penalties are not too much for Navas, who made an incredible save against Greece 4 years ago to help send Costa Rica to the quarterfinals, and has saved numerous penalties for Real over the past few seasons.
And so, if Los Ticos can surprise us once again by escaping a difficult group, they’re quite a threat to anyone in the Round of 16 and beyond. The prospect of having to deal with Navas in a penalty shootout is a scary one, and any knockout round opponents will be trying to avoid penalties at all costs.
Keylor Navas is the rock of this Costa Rica team. And as a goalkeeper, he carries an extra burden. Argentina can win without Messi. Portugal can win without Ronaldo. Other players have to step up, and sure they’ve got significantly better chances with their stars on the field, but it’s possible. If Navas is making blunders, Costa Rica might as well forfeit. They will live by Navas and die by Navas, and I expect there to be quite a bit of living in Russia for Los Ticos this month.