3 Areas Italy Can Improve in Following Their 1-0 Defeat to Costa Rica
Following a convincing 2-1 win over England, it seemed like Italy were in the driver's seat to win Group D and establish themselves as real contenders to go far in the 2014 World Cup.
After slumping to a shocking 1-0 loss to Costa Rica, however, the Azzurri have been given a reality check.
A Bryan Ruiz header on the stroke of half-time sealed the deal for Costa Rica, who grabbed their second scalp of the tournament after upsetting Uruguay, 3-1, in their opening game.
While Costa Rica deserve full credit for progressing from this Group of Death despite being the least fancied team, it must be noted how insipid Italy were in the defeat.
They looked like a different team than the one that outclassed England in Manaus, and now face a crunch match against Uruguay to decide which nation will advance to the knockout round.
Here are three areas Italy can improve in after an overall disappointing display.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Italy's performance was the lack of creativity.
Despite dominating possession—especially in the second half—with 61 percent, they managed just 10 shots to Costa Rica's 11. Costa Rica had five shots on target, while Italy had four shots on target.
Cesare Prandelli must take some of the responsibility for Italy's lack of spark going forward. He tinkered with the lineup that beat England, dropping Marco Verratti for Thiago Motta, and the decision ultimately cost Italy.
The midfield three of Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Motta didn't offer much going forward, with Pirlo operating from deep, while De Rossi and Motta are primarily defensive.
Verratti was clearly missed, as the 21-year-old completed 97 percent of his passes against England and assisted Claudio Marchisio's goal.
Consequently, Mario Balotelli was virtually nonexistent, completing just 12 passes throughout the match. If Prandelli is to take advantage of having a world-class striker in Balotelli, he will need to ensure that the Azzurri are more creative and inventive than they were against Costa Rica.
Credit to Costa Rica for being well-organized and tough to break down, but players like Antonio Candreva, Antonio Cassano and even Pirlo will need to step up against Uruguay.
Whenever an upset as big as this one occurs, the complacency of the losing team must come into question.
While Italy should have been wary of Costa Rica after their surprise win over Uruguay, the Azzurri looked complacent against a team that, on paper, they should have beaten.
It's not the first time that this happened, either. Italy have a tendency to underestimate "smaller" teams, made evident by recent draws in friendlies against Luxembourg, Nigeria and the Republic of Ireland. Rarely do Italy put four or five past a team—whether it be against a powerhouse or a minnow.
That being said, Prandelli's side know how to get the job done when it matters most. Needing at least a draw against Uruguay to advance to the knockout round, expect Italy to grind out a result against Luis Suarez and Co.
Although Cesare Prandelli has done an excellent job in charge of Italy and is arguably one of the most tactically astute managers at the World Cup, his substitutions against Costa Rica were ineffectual.
In an attempt to inject his side with some much-needed creativity, Prandelli brought on Antonio Cassano for Thiago Motta at half-time. While the substitution itself makes sense—an attacking player on for a defensive player—Cassano failed to make his mark on the match, completing just 56 percent of his passes and one dribble.
Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne were brought on later, but both were just as ineffective as Cassano, each completing one dribble despite operating from the wings.
That said, not all of the blame can be put on Prandelli—both Cerci and Insigne impressed in Serie A this season and one would expect them to make more of an impact than they did.
It would've been nice, however, to see Ciro Immobile get some playing time. The 24-year-old was the top scorer in Serie A last season with 22 goals, so it seems like a waste to keep him on the bench when the team is clearly in need of a fresh attacking option.
Hopefully Prandelli will give the Borussia Dortmund striker a chance against Uruguay, as he deserves to be more than just a benchwarmer for this Italy side.
All statistics via WhoScored.com.