Costa Rica pulled off one of the shocks of the first round of World Cup matches when they beat Uruguay 3-1 in their Group D opener on June 14, giving the CONCACAF nation their first win at the finals in over a decade.
Italy's win over England in the same group was a positive result for Costa Rica too, with the Italians favourites to progress anyway.
With Costa Rica top of the group on goal difference, hope sprung that they might unexpectedly reach the second round for the first time since 1990—but with two tough matches still to play, fans shouldn't get carried away.
Perfect Tactical Plan vs. Uruguay
In the opening game, Costa Rica set up with a deep defensive line, looked to press Uruguay centrally and then counter-attack whenever they could. It was pretty much a classic underdog setup in the hopes of defending well and nicking a goal on the break.
That didn't go too well in the first half, as it left forward Joel Campbell isolated. They didn't support him in enough numbers and fell behind to a penalty—but that was about the only time that Uruguay had a clear chance to find the net. They were unimaginative and stunted in possession, and as the game went on, Costa Rica grew in confidence and wouldn't be overrun.
More breaks came in greater numbers, and their pace clearly troubled Uruguay.
As much as the result was a shock itself, Costa Rica's equaliser wasn't, at least in the context of that point of the match. It had been coming, and it was also no surprise that Campbell was the man to get it, having been their biggest threat throughout.
The swing in confidence and ambition from that moment was clear to see, with the second goal moments later only serving to prove the point. There was little doubt Costa Rica would see out the win from then on.
Italy vs. Costa Rica, June 20
Italy are far, far better on the ball than Uruguay. Not just in terms of passing and keeping possession, but in knowing what to do and maintaining their patience when faced with a team who defend in numbers and are tough to break down.
The movement should be better in the final third from Italy, as they will pose a threat from set pieces as well, given the quality they can put on the delivery.
It shouldn't be expected that Costa Rica take anything more than a defeat from their second game—but then this World Cup has already brought so many surprises and comeback victories that nothing should be ruled out. Italy will have to be at their most professional and maintain concentration. Judging by their own first match, that will come as standard.
Take It to the Final Game
Even a defeat for Costa Rica is not terrible. They will be on three points after two matches, with Italy ahead of them, and level on points with Uruguay.
Taking the possibility of qualification to the last group-stage game and still having their fate in their own hands is as much as they could have expected before the tournament.
To have achieved that has to be classed as a success already for a nation only competing in their fourth World Cup and having finished ranked 31st out of 32 at the 2006 finals and not qualifying at all for 2010. Already in that regard, Brazil 2014 has been a step up for them.
There may well be a fairy-tale run at the finals this summer, but Costa Rica won't be the ones to make it.
They have their own strengths, a handful of players who can have an impact, but the quality of both England and Italy should be enough to see them pick up more points. That final game, Costa Rica vs. England, could easily be a winners-take-all scenario, with a draw good enough to see Costa Rica through.
As hard as they had to work and as much as they had to grow in their opening match, however, they'll have to do it twice as much against their next two opponents to make it any further through the 2014 World Cup.
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