Los Ticos put teams on notice: There’s something about Italy that brings out the very best in Costa Rica. It was at Italia ’90 that Los Ticos took their World Cup bow and beat Sweden 2-1—exactly 24 years ago today—to book a spot in the second round. On Friday, the Costa Ricans shocked the tournament again, defeating the Azzurri 1-0 to advance to the Round of 16 and simultaneously eliminate England from contention—all this after beating mighty Uruguay in its opener. Nobody was talking about the CONCACAF nation before the start of the competition; they were seen as the lightweights of this group. But everybody is talking about them now, and they’re proving that reputations count for very little in Brazil. What was most impressive was how Costa Rica controlled this game. The Italians had the majority of possession and out-passed their opponents by a wide margin, but Los Ticos were never troubled by Italy, comfortably containing them with their pressing game, and stifling their forward runs with their three centre-backs, abetted by two wide defenders. Better teams might be able to exploit the high defensive line that Costa Rica maintains, but the Italians couldn’t find a way to do it, and that’s saying something, especially with Andrea Pirlo in fine form on the day. Mario Balotelli was isolated for the majority of the match, and Cesare Prandelli’s three offensive substitutions in the second half made little impact. They simply couldn’t break through a stifling Costa Rican side.
Fantastic French Were the French really that good? Or were the Swiss that bad? A bit of both, really. France put on an attacking master-class, slipping five consecutive goals past the stingy Swiss, and it probably could have been more had goalkeeper Diego Benaglio not made some great saves and had Yohan Cabaye buried a into an open net instead of firing it off the crossbar. Karim Benzema was sensational on the night, his perfectly-timed runs cutting the Swiss to ribbons, while the Mathieu Valbuena, Blaise Matuidi and Moussa Sissoko combined to great effect in midfield. It didn’t help matters that the Swiss were often their worst enemy, with Valon Behrami and Philippe Senderos committing costly errors that led to French goals. Senderos was subbed into the game after only six minutes when centre half Steve Von Bergen came off with blood pouring down from under his left eye after Olivier Giroud kicked him in the face. Switzerland’s makeshift defence with Senderoos never looked comfortable and settled after the switch, but credit the French for having the skill and precision to dissect the Swiss defence with such exquisite precision. If pundits weren’t taking France seriously before, surely they are now.
Little margin for error: Sometimes mistakes don’t get punished. In the Honduras-Greece game they got punished—three times. All three goals were wonderful, two of them ending with sublime finishes. But they never would have happened if not for silly mistakes, giveaways and mental errors. Carlo Costly latched onto a long ball after a mistake from Ecuador defender Jorge Guagua to give Honduras a 1-0 lead. The advantage lasted only a few minutes, as the Honduran central defenders were caught ball watching inside their area, allowing Enner Valencia to tap in at the far post just a few minutes later. Valencia scored the winner in the 65th when he out-jumped the defence to head home a cross from Walter Ayovi off a wonderfully-worked free kick sequence. But he never would have had the chance had Boniek Garcia not committed a needless foul on Jefferson Montero just outside the box to concede the free kick. Mistakes happen, and they’re part of the game. This time out, they proved to be the difference, and Ecuador, who would have been eliminated with a loss, now sit in second place in their group.
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Game within the game
Italy enjoyed 58 percent possession and completed a whopping 513 passes (with a success rate of 89 percent) compared to just 287 completed passes by Costa Rica. But the majority of the Italians’ passes came in their half (see map below), as Los Ticos kept a high line, and pressed whenever the Azzurri tried to break through into the final third. Andrea Pirlo attempted just 33 passes in the 1st half (although some of them were beauties), less than half the number he managed versus England (70) in the first half. Italy just couldn’t penetrate, thwarted by Costa Rica’s effective pressing game and their three centre backs.
Of the five the French scored against the Swiss, it was the first that stood out the most. Mathieu Valbuena floated a terrific corner kick into the box that Olivier Giroud attacked and powered home with a super header to give Les Bleus the lead after 17 minutes.
Save of the day
Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was shelled for five goals, but he did managed to stop Karim Benzema’s penalty attempt, and he stopped the Real Madrid star again from in-close in the 77th minute with a great reflex save off a scramble inside the box.
Match of the day
Italy-Costa Rica was the better story. Switzerland-France produced more goals. But Honduras-Ecuador was a thrilling and tightly-contested affair, played out between two sides who went for it. Well done.
Best moment of the day
Carlo Costly’s sublime finish to give Honduras a 1-0 lead over Ecuador in the first half ended Los Catrachos’ World Cup goal drought that dated back to 1982 in Spain.
He said it
“Maybe there are a lot of people who didn’t have faith in us because we were in the ‘Group of Death’. But the dead are the other ones and we’re going to the next round.” – Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica forward
Question of the day
Tweet of the day
What`s the difference between #England and a tea-bag?
A tea-bag stays in the cup longer.
1) Karim Benzema: The Real Madrid star bagged his third goal of the tournament and ripped the Swiss defence apart with his runs. 2) Enner Valencia: His two goals for Ecuador, including a great headed finish off a wonderfully worked set piece, sunk Honduras. 3) Junior Diaz: Didn’t put a foot wrong as part of a Costa Rican defence that thwarted Italy. Also set up Bryan Ruiz’s winner.