Wow. Ten days ago, who would have expected Costa Rica to top Group D, the only group ever with three former World Champions. England is now officially out, but the story has to revolve around Costa Rica, and their incredible play so far, culminating in today’s 2-1 victory over Italy. Most expected the Ticos to be put back on earth by the Italians. But once again, the Costa Ricans showed they are a side to be reckoned with in Brazil, and now the pressure will be on Italy as they battle Uruguay next week for the Group D’s last spot.
The most impressive aspect of this game had to be the confidence that Costa Rica displayed in taking the game to Italy. They didn’t sit back and hope magic struck on a set-piece, but rather they simply played their game, confident that they were the better team. While most people would have seen that confidence as naïve, the Italians weren’t ready for it, and lacked the sharpness necessary to overcome Costa Rica’s proactive play. Even with Gigi Buffon back in net, the Italians were without inspiration on this day, as I can hardly remember any fight from anyone. Mario Balotelli looked disinterested most of the game, and Italy hardly had a serious chance.
Even Andrea Pirlo wasn’t particularly impressive today, as the Costa Ricans actually had a plan to stop him, unlike many teams in the past. Pirlo wasn’t allowed time on the ball, and as a result, the Italians struggled for a rhythm to their game. Why England didn’t try to shut down Pirlo in a similar way is beyond me.
Costa Rica’s goal was no fluke either, as Bryan Ruiz’s late-first half header was a long time coming. Joel Campbell should have earned a penalty a minute earlier, but instead of complaining, Costa Rica pressed on, and found their match-winner. Ever since his early days at Fulham, Ruiz’s drive and motor have always impressed me. And playing with the national side, he looks more comfortable in his starring role. He deserved the goal for all the work he puts in match in and match out for his side.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Costa Rica can keep up their strong play when they aren’t playing in the hot, steamy climates they are used to. Clearly, they were more prepared for the heat than the Italians were, but I think it would be unwise to say the heat was the only reason the Italians struggled. Costa Rica was simply better today.
The final match between Italy and Uruguay will have storylines abound. It’s amazing to think that out of Italy, Uruguay and Engalnd, only one of them will advance, with it now done to the first two. It’s hard to bet against Luis Suarez, so Uruguay might be the favorites solely because of him. But by my calculations, a draw will be enough for Italy to advance, which could make the tactics more complicated. That game should be full of intrigue.
It’s not often that I feel a sense of North American pride. But Costa Rica has really got me excited. Let’s hope CONCACAF keeps rolling.