COSTA RICA followed up their surprise win over Uruguay with another stunning result last night, beating four-time champions Italy to secure a spot in the next round and eliminate England in the process.
Scorers: Costa Rica; Bryan Ruiz
Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz gave his side the lead in the 44th minute, heading in off the underside of the crossbar following a cross by Junior Diaz. Goal-line technology was used to show that the ball bounced down and in after hitting the bar.
There was a frenetic end to the first half, as moments before Ruiz’s goal Costa Rica had a penalty appeal waved away when striker Joel Campbell was bundled over by Giorgio Chiellini.
Costa Rica lead Group D with six points, while Italy and Uruguay have three each before Tuesday’s showdown. England have zero points after losing to Italy and Uruguay.
So after entering the tournament as the expected underdogs in a group featuring three former world champions, Costa Rica are now proudly on top.
“Maybe there are a lot of people who didn’t have faith in us because we were in the ‘Group of Death’. But the dead are the other ones and we’re going to the next round,” Ruiz said.
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto was on the same wavelength. “We have played a historic team. They’re really good,” he said. “They have wonderful players so, of course, we feel really proud. Our team feels proud, our country feels proud…we want to go even further.”
Italy, meanwhile, can still advance with a win or even a draw with Uruguay, since they lead on goal difference which is the first qualifying criterion. “We gave our all. They did well to block every pass,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. “There’s no worry now. We just need to regain our energy.”
Costa Rica’s only other appearance in the knockout phase came on their World Cup debut in 1990, when they beat Sweden and Scotland under experienced coach Bora Milutinovic before ultimately being eliminated by Czechoslovakia. “There are no more Cinderellas in football, especially in a competition like the World Cup,” Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon said.
It was exactly 24 years ago to the day that Costa Rica beat Sweden 2-1 to advance at the tournament in Italy.
For Italy, it marked the fourth consecutive World Cup in which they failed to win their second match, although only in 2010 did the Azzurri fail to advance.
“We’ll play a great match against Uruguay,” second-half Italy substitute Antonio Cassano said. “I’m convinced we will…if we regain our energy we can (advance) comfortably.”
While it was nowhere near as hot as Italy feared at the Arena Pernambuco – 29C (84F) and 70 per cent humidity according to Fifa – the Azzurri still struggled to keep up with the speedy Ticos for long stretches.
Pinto lined up five defenders but his squad was able to advance forward with one swift, sweeping movement – just like in the 3-1 win over Uruguay. “We did what we needed to do, we took away the game from the Italians,” Pinto said.
The Azzurri hardly threatened until Mario Balotelli had chances in the 31st and 33rd minutes.
First, Balotelli was set up with a long, vertical pass by Andrea Pirlo and tried to lift the bouncing ball over the charging goalkeeper’s head but missed the target. Then the Azzurri forward had an effort from beyond the area stopped by goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Costa Rica kept their poise and, in the 36th minute, Buffon had to make a diving save to stop a shot from midfielder Christian Bolanos. In the 43rd minute, Chiellini made an uncharacteristic error – gifting the ball to Campbell near midfield – and then raced back and committed what appeared to be a clear foul. However, Chilean referee Enrique Osses motioned to play on.
Prandelli attempted to stir things up by adding Cassano, Lorenzo Insigne and Alessio Cerci in the second half, providing the Azzurri with four forwards instead of just Balotelli, but the 2006 winners rarely came close to equalising.
Appearing frustrated throughout, Balotelli was shown a yellow card in the 69th minute for taking down Diaz.
Italy’s best chances to equalise were a long, angled shot by Matteo Darmian in the 51st minute and a free kick by Pirlo in the 53rd that found its way over Costa Rica’s wall – but Navas was waiting and pushed it away.
In added time, Costa Rica substitute Randall Brenes nearly doubled the lead with a free kick that was only slightly off target.
Then the celebrations began.
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Matteo Darmian, Daniele De Rossi, Antonio Candreva (Lorenzo Insigne, 57), Thiago Motta (Antonio Cassano, 46), Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio (Alessio Cerci, 69), Mario Balotelli.
Costa Rica: Keylor Navas, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Michael Umana, Celso Borges, Oscar Duarte, Christian Bolanos, Joel Campbell (Marcos Urena, 74), Bryan Ruiz (Randall Brenes, 81), Junior Diaz, Cristian Gamboa, Yeltsin Tejeda (Jose Cubero, 67).