Day 9 of the 2014 World Cup featured arguably the most shocking upset of the tournament so far, as Costa Rica beat Italy 1-0 in the opening match of the day to advance to the knockout rounds.
Costa Rica did its best to pressure Andrea Pirlo and keep him from influencing the match. The Italian maestro still managed to create a couple of golden chances for his side, but his performance was much more subdued than it was against England.
Costa Rica's Bryan Ruiz scored the game-winning header in the 44th minute of play. ESPN FC has the highlight:
The win also killed England's chances of advancing to the knockout stages. ESPN Stats & Info points out the historical impact of Costa Rica's win:
Costa Rica defender Junior Diaz described his emotions after the shocking victory, via ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle:
I remember starting [qualifying], working hard in Costa Rica, a long time with the team without my family, and also working with my club in Germany, many troubles. That feeling in the final moment of the game came all in one second. Then it was happy, proud, crying. All the emotions, this was the best in my career.
Costa Rica must have spent all the underdog magic beating Italy, as France crushed Switzerland 5-2 in the day's second match.
Switzerland was likely to have trouble scoring in this tournament, but few would have expected to see the defense in shambles.
Switzerland gave up just six goals in 10 games during UEFA World Cup qualifying. It's the national side that beat Spain 1-0 in the 2010 World Cup. If there is one thing the Swiss do know, it's how to grind games into a standstill.
France had other plans. Five different players notched goals in the game, while Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema proved they make a dangerous tandem paired together up top.
The scoreline, as lopsided as it is, still flattered Switzerland to an extent; it was down 5-0 before consolation goals from Blerim Dzemaili and Granit Xhaka put the squad on the board.
In Day 9's final affair, Honduras ended its record-breaking World Cup scoring drought—which stood at over 500 minutes of game time but stretched all the way back to the 1982 Cup—but the historic moment wasn't enough to overcome an Enner Valencia brace as Ecuador beat the Central American minnows by a score of 2-1.
Here are the latest odds and updated group standings after the conclusion of Day 9.
|2014 World Cup Standings|
Impact Players from Day 9
Keylor Navas, Costa Rica
Ruiz scored the header heard around the world, but it was goalkeeper Keylor Navas who secured Costa Rica's improbably victory. A clean sheet against Italy is no easy feat.
He wasn't called upon very often in this match, but his four saves proved vitally important to Costa Rica securing victory. He held on to a searing strike from Mario Balotelli in the first half and tipped a rocket from the foot of Matteo Darmian over the crossbar in the second half.
Pirlo is always a danger from set pieces, but Navas tracked his free kick all the way in the 53rd minute and pushed it well wide of the area. There was no margin for error in this match, and Navas was on top of his game all the way through.
Navas had a brilliant season for Levante UD in La Liga and has proved he belongs in the conversation as one of the top keepers in the 2014 World Cup.
Mathieu Valbuena, France
The diminutive Mathieu Valbuena showed he is the little spark that can set France's offense on fire with his energetic performance against Switzerland.
He tallied a goal and an assist and was clinical with nearly every touch he got during the match. He put all three of his shots on target and completed 78 percent of his passes during the match, as per WhoScored.com.
He sprinted nearly the full length of the pitch in order to get in position for Giroud's excellent cross for his first goal of the tournament. ESPN FC has the highlight of France's ruthless counterattack:
French journalist Julien Laurens described the brilliance of the counter:
Valbuena's quickness down the flank makes him a headache for opposing defenses. His willingness to track back keeps him involved in France's buildup play as well. After France's dour display at the 2010 World Cup, players like Valbuena are a refreshing change of pace for a team looking to erase its recent failures.
Enner Valencia, Ecuador
There is a hoard of great goalscorers from top countries in this World Cup, and Ecuador's Enner Valencia is hanging with them, as ESPN Stats & Info points out:
Honduras struck first in the match on a sizzling goal from Carlo Costly and did well to frustrate Ecuador with its physical play.
Valencia's strong work rate allowed him to get into the right places at the right time and give Ecuador a chance at moving on to the round of 16. He latched on to a deflected cross to tie the game in the 34th minute and then rose above the fray to score on a powerful header in the 65th minute of play. ESPN FC shows the strength of the latter goal:
James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo believes Valencia has shown he's capable of playing in stronger leagues:
WhoScored.com's Twitter account revealed just how hot Valencia has been of late:
Ecuador will need Valencia to continue his knack for scoring goals in the pivotal match against France. Les Bleus have shown they have no difficulty scoring goals in this tournament; it will be up to the talismanic Valencia to help Ecuador keep pace.