Down with tika-taka. Long live Ticos-taka.
Costa Rica kicked off yet another great day of 2014 World Cup action with a 1-0 defeat of Italy. This year's tournament has already provided plenty of surprises, but Friday upped the ante with Los Ticos' rearguard action against the Azzurri.
International football has gained a reputation for embracing pragmatism and defensive football. In Issue 10 of The Blizzard, Tomislav Ivic, who served as a caretaker manager for Croatia in 1994, succinctly explained to Aleksandar Holiga why this has happened.
"It’s much easier to learn how to defend than how to attack," Ivic said.
National-team coaches don't have a lot of time with their players, so teaching them to defend and counter is the quickest route to success.
However, something has happened this summer. Either coaches are more willing to take chances or the quality of defender has precipitously dropped and in turn provided fans one of the most enjoyable international tournaments in years.
Below are the Day 9 scores with a quick recap of each match.
Day 9 Results
Day 9 Recap
Don't ever sleep on CONCACAF again.
Back in 2012, former France coach Raymond Domenech commented in an interview with But! magazine that he'd like to coach the United States national team someday, per ESPN FC's Ian Holyman. He said that he'd like to explore the country and be tempted professionally because of the success the U.S. enjoys.
Domenech also said this:
It's easy in North America. There are only two games to play and you're qualified for the World Cup. South America is already like paradise, but North America is even better. You play Canada, Mexico, you go for a walk in the islands...
So, yeah. Costa Rica, who finished second in CONCACAF qualifying, have beaten two-time World Cup champions Uruguay and four-time winners Italy.
Bryan Ruiz's goal in the 44th minute was all Los Ticos needed to take three points from the Azzurri. According to WhoScored.com, Costa Rica actually had one more shot (five) than Italy (four).
The victors did a particularly great job of isolating Mario Balotelli.
The A.C. Milan striker was feeding off scraps, as they say, and the frustration was evident on his face. That's the problem with Balotelli. When he's not having a good match, his head can really go. ESPN FC's Julian De Martinis thought that he nearly got himself sent off because of his petulance:
Take Balotelli off before he gets sent off— Julian of Martinis (@JulianDM11) June 20, 2014
By starting with a lone striker, Cesare Prandelli left Balotelli all by himself against Costa Rica's three centre-backs. Bundesliga Fanatic's Cristian Nyari felt that math wasn't helping Italy:
Italy need another striker out there. No point having Balotelli against three defenders. Also don't need Motta I feel at this rate.— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) June 20, 2014
Costa Rica's high defensive line also caught Balotelli offside, which only fueled his frustration:
Of course, the other big news that came from this match was England's elimination as a result of Italy's loss. The Three Lions' exit is already wrecking the country's consumer industry:
All official England World Cup merch already half price at Sainsbury's. Well, that was swift and brutal. pic.twitter.com/BeZYr2UxDW— Ben Wilson (@BenjiWilson) June 20, 2014
The Daily Mail's Ian Ladyman tried finding the positives:
That is the beauty of it really. If the football is good, nobody can ruin it, not England, not even FIFA.— Ian Ladyman (@Ian_Ladyman_DM) June 20, 2014
Costa Rica's win merely hastened the inevitable England-go-out-on-penalties narrative that occurs at nearly every international tournament.
Switzerland nearly had as bad a day as the Three Lions following their 5-2 thrashing at the hands of France. The Swiss defense was ripped apart on the counter like it was, uh, that one cheese with the holes. Which one is it? Provolone? Gouda? Oh well, you get the picture.
Les Bleus are generally one of those teams that is either really good or really bad at international tournaments. Friday was the really good.
Karim Benzema found the back of the net, bringing his tally to three for the tournament. That has him in a five-way tie for the Golden Boot, per Squawka:
The highlight of the match was France's third goal, scored by Mathieu Valbuena in the 40th minute. Tim Cahill and Robin van Persie have produced some great individual goals, but in terms of team goals, it will be hard to top Valbuena's.
France defended a Switzerland corner and cleared the ball out to Olivier Giroud. The Arsenal striker had acres of space and tons of time to run into the 18-yard box and find Valbuena for an easy finish. Words can't express the beauty of this goal.
You can see a replay below courtesy of ESPN FC:
WATCH: One of the best counterattacks you will see at this World Cup as Valbuena nets France's 3rd goal http://t.co/FsJh8r6Hjj— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 20, 2014
ESPN Stats & Info also provided a visual representation of the ball movement:
Varane longball to Giroud, cross to Valbuena for the goal: pic.twitter.com/A3m8sB1do5— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 20, 2014
Les Bleus were downright scary in this match. Switzerland's two goals both came from the 81st minute on, by which time France already had a 5-0 lead. It couldn't been a 6-0 lead if Benzema had scored his penalty in the 32nd minute or Yohan Cabaye finished on the follow up.
France are clearly the cream of the crop in Group E, and if they can get a matchup with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran or Nigeria in the next round, they really could make a deep run in the tournament.
They may have some competition in the group from Ecuador. La Tri earned a 2-1 victory over Honduras, courtesy of a brace by Enner Valencia. The 25-year-old became Ecuador's highest scorer ever at a single World Cup, per OptaJose:
3 - Enner Valencia has now scored more goals at a single World Cup than any other #ECU player. Insatiable.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) June 20, 2014
Plenty of players put themselves in the shop window during the World Cup, and Valencia's no different. Unlike some of the busts of World Cups past, Goal.com's Jon Arnold believes the Pachuca forward to be the real deal:
Honduras can be a very difficult side to break down, between their defensive tactics and general disregard for gentlemanly football. This could've easily been a draw for Ecuador, which wouldn't have helped them out much. Instead, La Tri took all the points and moved up to second in the group.
Ecuador are a dangerous team, and with Valencia playing this well, they could be the next surprise team to advance.