Can Joel Campbell Keep His (And Costa Rica's) Breakout Rolling?

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You could make an argument that, of all the Arsenal players at this World Cup, the best performance has been from a player with a grand total of zero minutes playing for the Gunners: Joel Campbell.


The 22-year-old has been one of the best young players in Brazil, and he has a chance to steal some of the spotlight being hogged by Colombia's James Rodríguez if he can keep Costa Rica rolling along in their Round of 16 match with Greece today. Just ask the members of Group D (the other Group of Death) about the thumb-sucking striker of Los Ticos.

In the 3-1 win over Uruguay that announced Costa Rica as the Cindarella of this tournament, Campbell sparked the comeback by netting an equalizing goal and following up with an assist on the third. Against Italy, he earned a penalty after carrying the Brazuca into the box, and he played a vital role in the opening goal with an excellent cross-field pass.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has already felt the heat from Campbell's performances, and while it's easy to put the Costa Rican's Arsenal absence down as managerial incompetence, visa issues have played a major role in Campbell having to go out on three separate loan spells. Plus, it's quite possible the time spent playing at places like FC Lorient, Real Betis, and Olympiakos have groomed Campbell for such success.

To this point, Campbell's acclaim has been nearly universal, outside of doubters questioning his lack of goals at the club level (only 13 top-flight league goals in the past three years). But one thing is for certain—Benik Afobe should be dabbling with Xanax over his future with the Gunners following a lackluster loan spell last season. This paired with Campbell's run over the past three games, of course.

Wenger has publicly proclaimed that, "[Campbell] will definitely come back to us for pre-season," and added a nice understatement by saying, "He is maturing well." But having already put on displays of brilliance at the pinnacle of the sport, it's hard to imagine he'll have trouble with friendlies against MLS squads in July.

Campbell has been integral in Costa Rica's run to the round of 16, showing a penchant for getting behind the last line of defense. On the ball he has displayed raw pace, an explosive strike and an arrogant strut that every forward without designs cut into their scalp must have to be successful. The young prospect has also demonstrated a willingness to dish the ball, utilizing strong vision to link up with the other 10 men on the field.

All this would correlate with a change in the dynamics of Arsenal's attacking capabilities. His acceleration forces defenders to think differently and worry about whether he's going to attack them head on, or look to square the ball for someone utilizing the open space he creates.


But can he keep the momentum going? And will he parlay his success at the international level to consistent playing time at one of the world's most prestigious clubs?

Today's match against Greece will give us the answer to the first question. The boring, stalwart Greek defense—which includes two of his Olympiakos teammates in Jose Holebas and Konstantinos Manolas—will look to put an end to the CONCACAF darling's tournament run, and they certainly pose a challenge for Campbell & Co. There will be 10 men behind the ball often, and a great deal of pressure will fall on Campbell's shoulders to break through.


We'll have to wait at least a few months for an answer to the second question, but at this point, it seems a safe bet that we'll be seeing Campbell again this fall.

Screamer is Deadspin's soccer site. We're @ScreamerDS on Twitter. We'll be partnering with our friends at Howler Magazine throughout the World Cup. Follow them on Twitter,@whatahowler.


C.J. Tuttle is a contributor to Howler. Follow him on Twitter, @kidceej.