Costa Ricans through after deserved win over Italy
Italy, Uruguay or England. Three World Champions. Only two qualified. One of them would be leaving Brazil early. That was the view of almost every pundit and fan as everyone dangerously attempted to predict the outcome of Group D. Costa Rica were the groups other participants. The whippings boys according to many. Tonight, the whipping boys are celebrating qualification from Group D.
Having defeated Uruguay 3-1 last Saturday, Costa Rica did not get the credit their performance richly deserved. This afternoon, they saw off Italy. Both victories thoroughly deserved. For many, they will be classed as underdogs who showed fight, heart and more hunger. All that is true but it would be wrong to overlook how excellent they were tactically too. In the afternoon heat of Recife, the Costa Ricans began much the better side. Maintaining a high line, they pressed Italy from the off. Having gone from being allowed time and space against England, Italy struggled to get any sort of rhythm going against a Costa Rican side intent on proving their victory over Uruguay six days previously was not a once off.
The Italians seemed to struggle with the heat early on and their play was slow and disjointed with stray passes a familiar sight. Yet it was they who had the best chance of the half. With Costa Rica choosing to play a high line, Andrea Pirlo was to quick to exploit the space with a wonderful first time pass in behind the defence for Balotelli to run onto. Having struggled to get complete control of the ball, his attempted lob over Keylor Navas bounced harmlessly wide. A few minutes after, another first time Pirlo ball, a flick on from Balotelli found himself in behind again but his volley was straight at Navas. Slowly, the Italians were beginning to come more and more into the game. Shortly before half-time, the game came alive. Chiellini’s miscontrol allowed Joel Campbell to race clear only for Chiellini to clumsily bundle him to the ground. It was as clear a penalty as you will see at this tournament but Chilean referee, Enrique Osses, somehow did not agree much to the anger of Costa Rican manager Jorge Luis Pinto. That anger was shortlived, however. Minutes later, the ball found its way to left-back Junior Diaz who’s cross was headed home at the back post by Bryan Ruiz off the underside off the crossbar. Goal line technology was required and confirmed that it had crossed the line. A half-time lead and qualification just 45 minutes away.
If England and Italy fans had anticipated a reaction from Cesare Prandelli’s team in the second half, they were left disappointed. Too often short of ideas, Italy huffed and puffed but never really created a clear-cut chance. Pirlo’s influence on the game had dwindled after those two magical balls in the first half. Prandelli introduced Cassano for Motta at the beginning of the second half and although the Parma striker had some good touches, he too often got crowded out by the Costa Rican midfield. Prandelli opted for Insigne and Cerci as his final two substitutions but it wasn’t enough. The celebrations from the Costa Rican fans after the final whistle told its own story. Their side had defied many people’s expectations and could not look forward to a Round of 16 match. For Italy, they now face a deciding final game against a Uruguayan side buoyed by their victory over England last night but a point will suffice for the Azzuri.
Italy, Uruguay and England. Three World Champions. By next Wednesday, June 25th, two will have left the competition.
Keylor Navas -7 Largely untroubled but saved well from a Balotelli strike and looked assured when called into action.
Christian Gamboa – 7 Dealt with Darmian when needed and put in another solid performance.
Oscar Duarte – 7 Looked assured all game and never offered Balotelli a great deal.
Michael Urmana – 6 Caught out by two Pirlo balls. Rarely troubled after that.
Junior Diaz – 7.5 Offered himself as an outball all day. Excellent cross for the only goal of the game.
Giancarlo Gonzalez -7 Never put a foot wrong. Another excellent display.
Bryan Ruiz – 9 The match winner and at the heart of all of Costa Rica’s attacking moves.
Celso Borges – 7 Very imposing in the middle. Upset Italy’s rhythm all day.
Yeltsin Tejeda – 6 Solid display in midfield. Closed down and remained disciplined throughout.
Christian Bolanos- 6 Worked tirelessly all game.
Joel Campbell – 7 Worked hard and looked very lively. Not as effective as the last day but most certainly should have been awarded a penalty. Gave Chiellini a nightmare.
Gianluigi Buffon – 6 Back in goal but looked very uncertain underneath crosses into the box.
Ignazio Abate -6 Solid but the cross for the goal came from his side. Rarely offered much going forward.
Giorgio Chiellini – 4 Luck to stay on the pitch after clumsily bringing down Campbell. Looked out of sorts all day.
Andrea Barzagli – 7 One of Italy’s better performers. Solid as always.
Matteo Darmian – 6 Was Italy’s biggest threat going forward but looked uncomfortable at left-back.
Thiago Motta -5 Started over Verratti but was too slow and too laboured on the ball. Replaced at half-time.
Daniele De Rossi – 6 Won tackles and did his job but was let down by the players around him.
Andrea Pirlo -6 Apart from two wonderful balls in the first half, he struggled to have a real influence on the game.
Antonio Candreva -5 Worked hard but offered little creativity. Replaced in the second half.
Claudio Marchisio -6 Offered little in the way of creativity and was replaced by Cerci.
Mario Balotelli – 7 Repeatedly caught offside. Failed to convert Italy’s two best chances.
Man of the match – Bryan Ruiz ( Costa Rica )
He was at the heart of everything going forward for Costa Rica. Assured in possession and worked tirelessly throughout to prevent Italy’s midfield from getting on top. Linked well with Campbell and got his head on the end of Diaz’s cross to send Costa Rica through to the Round of 16.