World Cup 2014: Winners and Losers from Day 9
Day 9 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup featured thrills, spills and the odd touch of controversy.
Finally, Group E hopefuls Ecuador and Honduras went head-to-head in Curitiba in what proved to be one of the most physical encounters of the tournament to date, with Ecuador ultimately prevailing 2-1.
The following are the biggest winners and losers from another intriguing day of World Cup play.
Winner: Giancarlo Gonzalez, Who Stuck to Mario Balotelli Like Glue
Chances are the broader football world didn't know who Giancarlo Gonzalez was on Friday morning.
They do now.
So does Mario Balotelli, who was man-marked out of Italy's loss to Costa Rica by Ticos and Columbus Crew defender Gonzalez, who did his job while only committing a single foul.
Loser: Ben Williams, Who Swallowed His Whistle at a Crucial Time
Ecuador should have won a penalty midway through the second half when Jefferson Montero struggled to stay on his feet inside Honduras' penalty box.
He should have gone to ground, because referee Ben Williams was not in a generous mood.
With the score at a goal apiece at the time, a Montero penalty might have been vital to Ecuador's chances.
Thankfully for them, though—and for Williams—Enner Valencia popped up with his second goal of the contest just minutes later to lead Ecuador to its much-earned victory.
Winner: Karim Benzema, Who Once Again Kept His Critics Quiet
It wasn't too surprising that France's Karim Benzema put in a streaky 2013-14 season at his club side, Real Madrid.
The striker is, after all, a player who experiences as many doldrums as purple patches, although he seems to be enjoying one of the latter at this World Cup.
Following up his two-goal performance against Honduras at Porto Alegre, Benzema found the back of the net for a third time in Les Bleus' win over Switzerland and also picked up a pair of assists.
That silence you hear is his critics thinking of something to complain about.
Loser: Diego Benaglio, Who Was a Sieve Against France
Switzerland arrived in Brazil billed as one of the better defensive outfits at the World Cup.
They were seeded, after all, and they backed up their reputation with a competent 2-1 win over Ecuador to kick off their campaign.
But from the get-go against France they seemed destined to be on the wrong end of a hiding, and after just 17 minutes Olivier Giroud had Les Bleus ahead.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Blaise Matuidi doubled France’s lead less than 60 seconds later—his finish inside the near post a straightforward shot that Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio should have easily stopped.
At the final whistle the 30-year-old Wolfsburg man had conceded an additional three goals as his side fell 5-2 in Salvador.
Winner: Jorge Luis Pinto, Who Masterminded a Win over Italy
This isn’t the first time Jorge Luis Pinto has been manager of Costa Rica.
The 61-year-old was initially sacked by the Ticos back in 2005, but ahead of the current World Cup cycle he was rehired and guided the CONCACAF outfit into its fourth World Cup finals.
He has since enhanced his credentials as a tactical mastermind.
Against Italy, Pinto’s Costa Rica once again displayed the patience, passion and pragmatism they showed in their opener against Uruguay, and they were rewarded at the final whistle with a memorable 1-0 win.
Loser: Mario Balotelli, Who Barely Got a Sniff in Recife
That Mario Balotelli is Italy's key forward is news to no one.
The AC Milan striker scored the winner for his country against England, and on Friday in Recife he was expected to once again do the damage against Costa Rica.
He barely got a sniff of goal.
Colombus Crew defender Giancarlo Gonzalez stuck closely to Balotelli throughout the match, and at the final whistle the 23-year-old had managed just one shot on target.
Winner: Goal-Line Technology, Which Once Again Saved the Day
Goal-line technology was once again called upon in a sticky situation on Friday, and once again the system worked—to Italy's chagrin.
Costa Rica wing-back Junior Diaz delivered an exceptional cross to captain Bryan Ruiz in the 44th minute against Italy. While it looked as though the attacker's header had beaten goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, the referee was less convinced.
Until his watch vibrated, signalling that Ruiz had, in fact, found the back of the net.
Loser: England, Who Are Out of the World Cup
England didn’t play on Friday, but their World Cup nevertheless came to an end when Costa Rica beat Italy in Recife.
With previous losses to both the Azzurri and Uruguay, England needed an Italy win at Arena Pernambuco, another Italy win next Tuesday against Uruguay and a victory for themselves against Costa Rica in their final Group D match. From there, they could have advanced via goal differential.
It was always a long shot, but it never even transpired.
With two defeats, the Three Lions are out of the tournament—the first time since 1958 that they’ve been eliminated this early in a World Cup they qualified for.