Group D: Costa Rica 1, Italy 0
Yes, you read it right…..Costa Rica, a CONCACAF team, is leading Group D of the World Cup. The Ticos have become the Cinderella team for those around the world that don't have a country to root for. Following a 3-1 upset of Uruguay last week, Costa Rica was able to surprise yet another soccer powerhouse with a win against the Italians while also claiming the clean sheet. The win today gave the CONCACAF member the lead with six points in Group D and a berth into the Round of 16.
Italy (first World Cup loss to CONCACAF team) fought a hard battle with tough defense along with their captain and GK Gianluigi Buffon, who missed last week's win over England. However, Costa Rica's offense finally connected near the end of the first half when Bryan Ruiz's header would hit the bottom of the cross-bar which propelled the ball over the line for a goal in the 44th minute. The goal seemed destined to arrive for the team following a blown call by the referee on a potential penalty when F Joel Campbell was taken down in the box by Italian D Giorgio Chiellini. The header followed a beautiful and precise cross from across the field by Junior Diaz. From that point on in the match, the offense of Costa Rica seemed to spark which placed immense pressure on the Italian defense; however, under Buffon, Italy found a way to only give up one goal to the Ticos and their high-octane offense.
Meanwhile on the other side of the pitch, the Italians were non-existent with little success with the ball and blown offensive chances. Forward Mario Balotelli (game-winning goal vs. Eng.) started the game for Italy, but he could not connect on two key chances: one saved and one off the mark.
The poor Italian offensive display can be attributed mostly to the excellent play of the Costa Rican defense. The generally unrecognized defense kept a stiff high line against the forwards of Italy which caught many of the driving attackers leading to a tournament-high 11 offsides. Costa Rica's strong defense makes them extremely dangerous as the tournament moves forward, drawing similarities to the 2010 World Cup Champions of Spain: a weaker offense that gained about one goal per game while tallying up clean sheets. Costa Rican GK Navas is also playing very well in which he also limited a powerful Uruguayan offense (without Suarez) to one goal, on a penalty.
If this was the NCAA Basketball Tournament heading into the Sweet 16, I would most likely not pick the Ticos to advance further over a potential matchup with Ivory Coast; However, a Cinderella is made to destroy the expected in sports. Therefore, watch out for Costa Rica as they sport both the flag of their nation and that of CONCACAF following their disposal of the powerhouses of Italy and Uruguay.
Goals: CRC: B. Ruiz – 44'
Discipline: CRC: Jose Cubero
Next Matches: CRC: vs. England – 6/24, 12:00 pm, Belo Horizonte
ITA: vs. Uruguay – 6/24, 12:00 pm, Natal
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