The FourFourTwo Preview: Italy vs Costa Rica
The wily old guard versus CONCACAF's yapping underdog.
Talk about blowing a group wide open. When plucky little Costa Rica lined up against Uruguay last Saturday, the die had seemingly been cast. The Ticos were merely in town to play Alamo to a front-line cutting its teeth, even without the toothiest of them all: Luis Suarez.
But to hell with the prophets of doom. Oscar Tabarez's men were filleted and, despite this only being their fourth World Cup (and having never defeated Uruguay), Costa Rica rallied from an early Edinson Cavani penalty to win 3-1 in a performance that relied on pace and ariel strength from set-pieces. They're on their uppers now.
So here come Italy, unflappable grandmasters of international competition, who unstitched England's enthusiasm on Saturday with patience and perfect timing. Identifying Roy Hodgson's full-back positions as weak spots, they attacked the flanks effectively; Italy's defence resisted the pace of a relatively youthful front-line and managed to repel much of England's charges.
Cesare Prandelli's have the smarts for sure, so they won't be sucker-punched here. Should the unthinkable happen however, it will be the biggest shock of the tournament so far.
What the local media say
"In [Joel Campbell's] opening performance, he scored the equaliser for Costa Rica and then created the game-clinching third for Marcos Urena with a defence-splitting pass. With games against Italy and England to come, the chances to shine before eager eyes will only multiply. And the man himself believes there will be more to come - from his team and from himself. Right from the start we knew we could win [against Uruguay],' he said. 'We have a very strong mentality and even when we were losing our heads didn't drop.'" - Inside Costa Rica.
"Viareggio [Lucca] - Marcello Lippi: 'I went to see the national team in Coverciano and I saw that there was a good spirit, similar to the one that preceded Germany 2006: let us hope that the end result is the same, the start was very convincing.'" - Corriere Dello Sport.
Key battle: Mario Balotelli vs Junior Diaz
In Italy's opening game, the Milan striker delivered a performance that brimmed with maturity and composure. Despite playing as a lone striker, he found patience enough to constantly trouble England's back four before popping up with the decisive second half goal. It's little wonder he chose to fill the Italy page in his Panini sticker book with images of himself.
Costa Rica understandably play with defence in mind: against Uruguay they deployed five at the back, with a wall of four midfielders in front of them. Despite their victory, Diaz will have to be on sharper duty against Balotelli, though: he allowed Diego Lugano to evade him from a free-kick. His subsequent manhandling resulted in Cavani's penalty.
Facts and figures
- Costa Rica have scored in each of their six World Cup games against teams from the UEFA confederation.
- Italy’s pass completion of 93% vs England is the highest rate ever recorded in a World Cup game (1966-2014).
- Italy have not won their second game at a World Cup in any of the last three editions. (D2 L1).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Costa Rica's bubble to burst in a 2-0 defeat.