Having started World Cup 2014 in dream style with respective victories over England and Uruguay, Group D’s top two Italy and Costa Rica meet in Recife, Brazil looking to continue their push for the last 16.
Costa Rica produced the surprise result of the first set of fixtures by disposing of the highly rated Uruguay 3-1, but they face a much sterner test in the Italians on Friday.
Cesare Prandelli’s side’s organisation and tactical approach was inch-perfect against England and, while Costa Rica will undoubtedly pose a threat, Italy will be hoping to lay down another marker at the Arena Pernambuco.
Venue: Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Date: Friday, June 20
Time: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET
TV Info: BBC One/ESPN (U.S.)
Italy Halfway to Redemption
Coming into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as holders, Italy faltered at the group stage and crashed out without a win to their name.
They’ve already gone one better this time around with their 2-1 victory over England, but the job is far from complete with two tricky opponents still to come, starting with Costa Rica.
Midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who was a standout performer in Saturday’s triumph, told the Italian FA his side cannot underestimate the Costa Ricans on Friday, via AFP and FIFA.com:
It was better for us that Costa Rica beat Uruguay otherwise we would have risked underestimating them. Now we won't. We have to have the right fear. There are no longer weak teams in the tournament, as many players play in Europe and are competitive. Costa Rica showed they are a good side and that they have interesting players. But to win on Friday would guarantee us qualification to the next round.
Fearing Costa Rica is something an Italian national side have probably never done, but they have every reason to be wary.
Though there were fantastic performances all over the pitch by the Costa Ricans against Uruguay, one man who stood out was Arsenal’s Joel Campbell, helping himself to a goal and an assist in Fortaleza.
Happy for the goal and the victory, but we still have two games ... we are on JC's # 9 pic.twitter.com/kV2nobRDeA— Joel Campbell (@joel_campbell12) June 14, 2014
The Uruguayans simply couldn’t handle him and resorted to fouling tactics to thwart his progress, though he still got the better of them, per Opta Joe:
7 - Joel Campbell was fouled seven times against Uruguay - more often than any other player in the World Cup so far. Bruised.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 16, 2014
However, as Italy’s defence showed against the English, they’re more than up for the challenge of facing Campbell on Friday.
England dominated for large spells and threw everything at Italy as the clock ticked toward full time, but such was the organisation of the Italian back line that they couldn’t find a way through.
As Gary Lineker revealed, England enjoyed the best of the action in Italy’s half on Saturday:
Here's another beauty. For passing accuracy in the opposition's half, England come out on top. Stats exclude crosses where England are last.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 15, 2014
While Costa Rica are unlikely to stay camped in the Italian half for the duration of the game, the Azzurri will be able to handle anything that comes their way based on their form.
On paper, this has all the makings of a walkover in favour of Italy, but Costa Rica have shown that you can never write them off.
With a victory guaranteeing Italy’s place in the last 16, the mission to make up for 2010 is just 90 minutes away from reaching its next checkpoint.
Key Stats and Prediction (statistics provided by WhoScored.com)
Italy have scored at least two goals in 10 of their last 12 World Cup matches and didn't lose a single match in qualifying.
Prandelli's side headed into the World Cup off the back of some strong form, having lost just one match since September, and they'll be looking to extent that record on Friday.
Mario Balotelli's goal against England was his first for the national team since October 2013, a run stretching five matches.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica's victory over Uruguay was just their third in their last 10 internationals.
In scoring his side's opener, Campbell netted his eighth goal for the Costa Ricans and is now just seven away from his nation's all-time top 10.
Prediction: Italy 3-1 Costa Rica