Sky’s the limit for Costa Rica after stunning Italy
Bryan Ruiz heads in the only goal against four-time champions, condemning England to the exit and setting up showdown between Uruguay and Italy for other qualification place
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said the sky’s the limit after the central Americans claimed their second major scalp of the World Cup on Friday to secure their place in the last 16 for only the second time.
Costa Rica, whose only previous last 16 appearance was in 1990, are ranked only 28th in the world, 19 places behind Italy and 21 places behind Uruguay.
But less than a week after a 3-1 come-from-behind win over Uruguay, Pinto’s team added another touch of magic to their impressive campaign with a deserved 1-0 win over four-time champions Italy.
“Today is very special. We knew we could make history and we have been able to do so,” said an elated and emotional Pinto.
“The people of Costa Rica can celebrate. They have a very close relationship with the national team, and it works very well.
“We have been working very hard for over five years. We have to enjoy the moment.
“We’re delighted with the win, which has put us into the second round, but we don’t want to stop there. It’s only the start,” said Pinto, a 61-year-old Colombian known for winning league titles in Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica and Venezuela.
“It’s not easy to play against a team like Italy, given their history and the individual talents they have.
“We tried to contain their play by restricting [midfielder] Andrea Pirlo, but we were also solid in defence.”
WATCH: Bryan Ruiz heads in for Costa Rica
Costa Rica restricted Italy to only two real goal chances in the first half, both coming from striker Mario Balotelli following deliveries by Pirlo, before claiming a deserved 1-0 win thanks to Bryan Ruiz’s header.
Two minutes after seeing claims for a cast iron penalty waved away following Giorgio Chiellini’s charge on forward Joel Campbell, the central Americans stunned their opponents on the stroke of half-time.
Gianluigi Buffon, who sat out the England win due to an ankle knock, failed to come for a Junior Diaz cross to the far post and Fulham forward Ruiz produced a superb header, which beat the 2006 World Cup-winning goalkeeper.
The Italians need at least a draw in their final group game against Uruguay to progress and coach Cesare Prandelli sought to stay positive, with his side needing a draw to qualify due to superior goal difference.
“Right now I don’t think we need to be negative, we need to think about recovering our energies because we have another game in a few days’ time. We play against Uruguay and whether we qualify depends on that,” Prandelli said.
He also refused to blame the midday tropical heat in Recife for the defeat.
“We know about the calendar, we’ve known it for some time,” Prandelli said. “It’s useless to try to find excuses, we’re not looking for excuses, we have to be ready at the kickoff.
“Costa Rica worked very hard to get here in excellent shape, they were very organised and are going to go far.
Costa Rica’s plan to stifle Italy playmaker Pirlo worked perfectly.
“The idea was to stop him from playing forward, from feeding Balotelli, from feeding the strikers, and it paid out,” midfielder Celso Borges said.
“We were working him in zones. Every time he got the ball, somebody had to break the line to make sure he didn’t play it forward.
“He was tough in the first half, playing one-touch (passes)... and then he dropped back a little.”
The Costa Rican tactics worked a charm as Pirlo was prevented from firing his trademark passes around the field as he had done in the 2-1 win over England in their opening game.
Tipped by many to be the whipping boys of the group, Costa Rica have surprised everyone but themselves with their aggressive defending and slick counter-attacking game and have beaten two former world champions to progress.
“I wouldn’t say we are surprised,” Borges said as he was ushered away from the journalists’ mixed zone to join his teammates on a bus headed for Recife airport.
“I don’t know about other people, but I think we knew we could do it. Surprise is for the non-believers, but I think we’ve done our job.”
Agence France-Presse, Reuters