Costa Rica pulled off another stunning upset on Friday, reaching the Round of 16 with a 1-0 win over Italy. Bryan Ruiz’s goal was the difference in a scorching day in Recife that saw the European giants simply run out of ideas at the Pernambuco.
The result put the lie to the theory that Costa Rica were simply here to make up the numbers. It also confirmed England’s exit from the World Cup. Italy and Uruguay will now meet on the final day with that final slot in the knockout round on the line.
”Maybe there are a lot of people who didn’t have faith in us because we were in the `Group of Death.’" said Ruiz after the match. "But the dead are the other ones and we’re going to the next round."
Costa Rica laid their lines out smartly in the early going, playing a high line that smothered most of Italy’s more incisive passes. It was a daring move — and there were times when Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli combined to force Keylor Navas to make a big save, but it proved to be effective and as the sun beat down on the Europeans. Ultimately, Italy’s resolve evaporated.
From the get go, Costa Rica came out and tried to score goals, with Cesar Borges and Junior Diaz bedeviling the Italian midfield and putting pressure on Gigi Buffon early. Christian Bolanos consistently sent in dangerous corners and restarts that the Italian back four looked very unconvincing on, with Giorgio Chiellini often at a loss to cover his man. But the big difference here was that Pirlo was kept off the ball — had had half as many touches in the first half than he did against England — and the difference was clear.
Costa Rica had the better of the game early. Borges had a clean chance inside the first ten minutes that Buffon simply flapped at, but he could not keep his header down to let the Italians off. Bryan Ruiz was constantly getting behind Italy’s back line, making inviting runs but the Ticos were unable to finish the play off.
Where Italy looked dangerous was when Balotelli was able to slip in and beat the trap. Pirlo finally set him up in the 31st with a long diagonal out of the back, and for a moment, it looked like a classic Super Mario moment — but his floated chip over Navas missed the frame of the goal entirely. Two minutes later, Pirlo pulled the same trick, this time with Balotelli unleashing a low bullet of a shot that Navas got behind well.
Costa Rica started to turn the screw. First, Bolanos fired a speculative ball in that Buffon saved well at his post. Then, Oscar Duarte was found alone in space but glanced his header over the bar.
Then came a major moment of controversy. Joel Cambpell, the fleet striker owned by Arsenal, dashed into the box, and Chiellini put his shoulder sharply into the young man’s back, toppling him in the penalty box. All eyes went to Chilean referee Enrique Osses, expecting him to point to the spot. But to the shock of all, he waved play on and there was a real sense of injustice done.
But just a minute later, Ruiz broke the deadlock, heading home a cross from Diaz off the crossbar and in over the line. Italy howled that the ball had not gone over, but it was clear to both the naked eye and to this World Cup’s new goal-line technology that the ball had indeed dinked in. And it was a fine goal indeed, a great cross from the left that tore between the centerbacks, leaving Buffon helpless as Ruiz leaned back to head in.
The second half saw more of a flurry form Italy, who threw on Antonio Cassano for Thiago Motta in an attempt to make something happen. Matteo Darman almost got Italy back in it when he uncorked a fine drive on the 50th minute but again Navas was the equal of it. Costa Rica were nearly caught out when they dropped back and tried to absorb more.
But Italy were unable to build out of the back and as time wore on — and the Ticos created a few half-chances — you could see the frustration grow. Balotelli would take a card for a foolish foul, hauling down Diaz and stalking away in a huff. Buffon would curse and look to the bench. And Cesare Prandelli seemed to have no answer for his counterpart’s tactics.
Give full credit to Jorge Luis Pinto, the under-rated Costa Rica manager who has now pulled off two huge upsets at this World Cup. They deservedly took out Uruguay, and ably handled an Italian side that might not be vintage, but are certainly difficult. ”We did what we needed to do, we took away the game from the Italians,” Pinto said.
The question now is: Does anyone want to face Los Ticos? On the evidence, you may think not. ”There are no more Cinderellas in football, especially in a competition like the World Cup,” Italy captain Buffon said after the loss.
And that’s the truth.
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).