Costa Rica’s amazing run here at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ continued in Recife, the Central American upstarts adding Italy’s scalp to their Group D belt after opening with a win over Uruguay. Los Ticos are now through to the knockout phase for only the second time in their history, thanks to a Bryan Ruiz header just before the interval at the Arena Pernambuco.
Costa Rica, playing with a five-man backline, were eager to break on the counter-attack early. And the CONCACAF minnows produced the first chance of the opening period. Celso Borges met a swirling corner with a flying leap, but the veteran midfielder was unable to keep his effort down and it flew over the crossbar of captain Gianluigi Buffon, back in the Azzurri line-up after sitting out the first match injured in Manaus.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli admitted before the match to being fearful of Costa Rica’s combination of “European-style organisation” and the “explosiveness of the Americas.” He had reason to be nervous too. Mario Balotelii had trouble keeping the ball up front in a lone-striker’s role and Los Ticos blasted forward like lightning whenever they had the chance.
Balotelii finally slipped his man on the half-hour mark, racing free on the end of a long ball from Andrea Pirlo, in his traditional deep playmaker’s role. But the enigmatic AC Milan forward was unable to put his delicate lob of Keylor Navas into the back of the net. The Italians’ best chance of the half spurred a Costa Rican response.
Buffon was called into action shortly after and had to be on his toes to keep out a curling effort from Copenhagen-based winger Cristian Bolanos. It was a hint of things to come and Costa Rica upped the tempo in the dying moments of the half, heaping heavy pressure on Italy. Oscar Duarte’s header zipped just over the bar before Campbell saw a penalty shout waved away.
But the Italian resistance gave way a minute before the interval. Junior Diaz whipped in a devastating cross from the left that Bryan Ruiz headed off the underside of the bar and into the goal from a tight angle. Goal-line technology confirmed what the Tico fans had desperately hoped: that the ball had crossed the line.
The Italians were desperate to get back into the game as the second-half got underway. Prandelli brought on forward Antonio Cassano for holding midfielder Thiago Motta for the restart. It didn’t have the desired effect and only managed to leave more room for Costa Rica’s rampaging striker Campbell, who was just barely denied by a sprawling Buffon, who raced well-outside his area on the hour-mark. In the end, the Ticos didn’t need another goal as 1-0 was enough to win on an historic day.
Costa Rica, amazingly through the knockout stages after two games, take on England in their third game on 24 June in Belo Horizonte. Italy, with three points from their two matches, take on Uruguay in Natal at the same time.