Cinderella has arrived, and the ball is just getting started.
Costa Rica continued their unexpectedly successful run at the FIFA World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Italy on Friday in Group D action at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil.
Bryan Ruiz scored the game's only goal one minute before half-time as the Ticos knocked off a former world champion for the second straight match. With the win, Costa Rica became the first team from Group D—which includes three former World Cup winners—to advance to the knockout stages.
And Jorge Luis Pinto's team might not be done yet. In their final group game, Costa Rica face Roy Hodgson's England, who were eliminated with Friday's result in Recife. A win or draw against the Three Lions on Tuesday in Belo Horizonte would send the Ticos through to the last 16 as group winners.
Italy, meanwhile, hardly resembled the team that advanced to the Euro 2012 final. The Azzurri's attackers disappointed throughout, with Mario Balotelli missing two good chances in the first half and the team combining for 11 offside calls. Cesare Prandelli's team has yet to seal qualification and will need a draw or victory against Uruguay on Tuesday in Natal to go through.
Following the shock of their opening victory over Uruguay, Costa Rica continued to impress against Italy, taking a deserved 1-0 lead into half-time.
Christian Bolanos tested Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon with a dipping strike from distance in the 36th minute, and Oscar Duarte headed over from a corner six minutes later.
The Ticos had a strong penalty shout in the 43rd minute after Joel Campbell went to ground in the box under pressure. Replays showed that Giorgio Chiellini had made contact with the Costa Rican attacker, but referee Enrique Osses waved play on.
It mattered little, though. One minute later, Costa Rica were ahead.
Junior Diaz created the chance from the left side, curling a fine cross toward the back post, where Ruiz headed in off the underside of the bar for a 1-0 Costa Rica lead.
Italy, meanwhile, had spurned a couple of chances, with striker Mario Balotelli at fault on both. In the 31st minute, the striker found himself in the clear following Andrea Pirlo's defence-splitting pass. But Balotelli's first touch let him down, and he could only lob a rushed shot off target over the onrushing Keylor Navas.
Balotelli had another chance two minutes later after being set up by midfielder Thiago Motta's headed pass, but this time Balotelli volleyed straight at Navas, who saved.
Trailing 1-0 at half-time, Italy took a more aggressive approach in the second half, introducing striker Antonio Cassano for Motta and applying more pressure when Costa Rica had the ball.
A chance came in the 51st minute, when Matteo Darmian shot over the bar from long distance on the left. Pirlo then went for goal two minutes later with a curling free-kick, which Navas parried.
Chances became scarce thereafter, though, as Costa Rica's disciplined defending stifled Italy's attack. The Azzurri rarely threatened again, with the best chance of the closing minutes falling to Costa Rica's Randall Brenes, who curled a shot inches wide in the second minute of stoppage time.
|Italy Player Ratings|
|Daniele De Rossi||6||5|
|Antonio Cassano (for Motta, 46')||N/A||5|
|Lorenzo Insigne (for Candreva, 57')||N/A||5|
|Alessio Cerci (for Marchisio, 69')||N/A||5|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
|Costa Rica Player Ratings|
|Jose Cubero (for Tejeda, 68')||N/A||6|
|Marcos Urena (for Campbell, 74')||N/A||6|
|Randall Brenes (for Ruiz, 81')||N/A||6|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto praised his side's performance against an "incredible" team, telling FIFA.com:
It was a lovely game and we're really pleased by how Bryan (Ruiz) got his goal at such an important time, just before the interval. We were playing against an incredible team and we’re very proud. I don’t want to seem like I’m being over-positive, but I honestly think that our defence were simply perfect today. It’s not easy tackling a team of Italy’s quality. It must be said that much of what I now know about the game I owe to Italy, having always followed Italian football. Our players now have to stay cool and keep going. We need to savour this win but also be ready to play well in our upcoming matches.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli called the defeat "deserved," heaping praise on Costa Rica for their performance. As quoted by Football Italia, he said:
It was a defeat where Costa Rica were much more aggressive and played with passion. We already knew this was a particularly tough group and that we'd have to gamble our qualification in the last game with Uruguay.
We thought that we'd find a third midfielder, but never did. If we had scored, then perhaps it would've been a different game, but we deserved this defeat. I don't know if we were superficial and it would be a huge mistake if we were. The players ran hard and in these conditions gave all they had.
We had a plan, but Costa Rica were smart to close down every gap for the passes to go through.
Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon remained optimistic about the Azzurri's chances to qualify for the next round. As quoted by Football Italia, he said:
You get back on your feet by looking on the bright side, which is that even a draw wouldn't have changed anything, as we still needed a draw against Uruguay.
In fact, even a victory would've left us needing a point to be absolutely sure. Costa Rica’s qualification was a shock for those who take some things for granted and think there are still weak teams in a World Cup.
For several years now we have realised there's no such thing as a Cinderella side in major tournaments.