RECIFE – Gp D: Italy 0, Costa Rica 1
—- Costa Rica achieved the remarkable feat of humbling both Italy and England simultaneously as the team levelled as no-hopers in the Group of Death became the first to qualify for the second round.
No one could quibble that they had to do it the hard way, executing two former world champions in two games and now hardly needing worry next time out about England, confirmed as the first homeward-bound member of the old guard.
Los Ticos had opened up by defeating Uruguay and the Italians’ initial demeanour suggested that the Azzurri did not expect lightning to strike twice, and certainly not on them.
But a goal almost on half-time from Bryan Ruiz, who never quite made it at Fulham, achieved the victory which was beyond England last weekend.
England also, of course, then failed against Uruguay and thus now join Spain, Australia and Cameroon as teams who can already sort out their online check-in.
Italy are no strangers to upset defeats, notably to the two Koreas – to the North in 1966 and the South in controversial circumstances in 2002. But after Mario Balotelli missed chance after chance in the first half there was a doomed look about them.
Balotelli, starting in a lone role up front, set up Thiago Motta in the 26th minute but the midielder thumped wide. Then Balotelli himself squandered two even clearer chances, once hooking wide of the goalkeeper at close range and then shooting straight at him after a superb through pass from Andrea Pirlo.
Costa Rica saw this as proof that the footballing gods were with them. Christian Bolanos had a low drive brilliantly saved by Gigi Buffon – playing in his record-equalling fifth World Cup – then Joel Campbell was inexplicably denied a penalty after being crudely bumped to the ground by Giorgio Chiellini.
Two minutes later the central Americans had their reward. Ruiz saw his angled header ricochet down off the underside of the bar and over the line before bouncing back out into play.
No doubts this time. It was a goal which provided Costa Rica with a lead which withstood everything an increasing desperate Italy – so desperate coach Cesare Prandelli even sent on Antonio Cassano – throw at them all the rest of the way to their fabulous final whistle.