Scottish Daily Mail


Fulham star the hero as Costa Rica reach last 16

- IAN LADYMAN reports from Recife

FORGET what this match — and result — ultimately meant to England’s World Cup hopes if you can and instead revel in the glory of Costa Rica. In a tournament knee- deep in fascinatin­g stories and genuine surprises, the tiny Central American nation have presented us with perhaps the best one of all.

Ranked 28th in the world — that’s one place beneath Scotland — Costa Rica yesterday added a thoroughly- deserved victory over Italy to the 3-1 lesson they handed Uruguay last Saturday in Fortaleza.

So, with England limping home and Italy and Uruguay left to scrap for Group D survival next week, Jorge Luis Pinto and his remarkable team are through to the knockout phase with a game to spare of a tournament they began rated as no-hopers.

‘We kept up our heads,’ said ecstatic coach afterwards. ‘It was a beautiful match. The people of Costa Rica deserve this. They supported us. This was for them’.

Costa Rica top the group with six points, having already beaten Uruguay in their first game, while Italy, three points adrift, now need at least a draw from their final game against Uruguay, also on three points, to go through on goal difference.

‘We knew this would be a particular­ly tough group,’ said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. ‘We will try to recover all our energy for the Uruguay game.

‘We didn’t get our tactics wrong. They were very, very aggressive and we were trying to find different ways into the game but we didn’t manage it.’

How humiliatin­g for England to have to f ace them now. Roy Hodgson and his players are staring at a clean sweep of defeats and, on yesterday’s evidence, that is entirely possible.

Italy were dreadful, worse than England have been in either of their games. Costa Rica, though, t ook advantage i n splendid fashion, with Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz scoring the winning goal with a farpost header just before half-time.

With the journey out of Recife, towards this stadium in the middle of a forest, taking in excess of three-and-a-half hours for some supporters, there were plenty of empty seats at the start of the game. Luckily for those still crawling up the highway, the significan­t action of the first half did not occur until the final 30 minutes.

For the first half-hour, there was no sign of the drama that was to f ollow. Starting early i n the afternoon in high temperatur­es, the game was slow and rather dull. Not until Mario Balotelli spurned two chances in quick succession did the game finally flicker to life.

Certainly, the slayer of England should have taken the first one, laid on for him by a superb pass from Andrea Pirlo. The Italian’s first-time pass with his right foot could not have been better but Balotelli’s first touch was poor and his second didn’t manage to lift the ball over the goalkeeper, who had been slow to advance.

A minute or so later, the Costa Rica defensive line was breached again. This time Balotelli executed a shot properly, only for his volley from the 18-yard line to be beaten out by Keylor Navas.

At this stage, Italy looked comfortabl­e if not exactly dominant but all that was to change in a handful of dramatic minutes just before the break.

Costa Rica had already served notice of their attacking ambition and i ndeed t heir ability with a couple of forays. Christian Bolanos saw a longrange shot saved by fit-again Gianluigi Buffon, while young Joel Campbell was denied at the near post by Giorgio Chiellini and Oscar Duarte, then headed over a Ruiz cross. Italy were looking unusually frail at the back and soon enough they cracked. First Chiellini miscontrol­led the ball and hurried back to bundle over Campbell in t he area. Somehow the Chilean referee did not award a penalty. Within t wo minutes, though, Chiellini was all over the place again as he got stuck beneath a Duarte cross and Ruiz headed in via the underside of the bar. On the touchline, Costa Rica coach Pinto seemed to be pointing to the heavens to indicate justice. Whatever he meant, his team were ahead and were staring at the second round.

Italy made a change at half-time as Antonio Cassano replaced Thiago Motta and the Euro 2012 runners-up dominated possession at the start of the second period.

They struggled to create clear chances, however. Balotelli was having one of those games when he looked like he had never played before and only a raking drive from Matteo Darmin and a Pirlo f r ee - kick caused Navas any concern at all.

On both occasions the Levante No 1 diverted the ball to safety.

Costa Rica still looked dangerous on the break but struggled to retain the ball as well as they had done in the first half.

Italy, on the other hand, never l ooked l i ke scoring and their afternoon ended with Balotelli and Lorenzi Insigne arguing after the substitute had ballooned a late effort over the bar.

It was quite fitting.

 ??  ?? You can write England off now: one Costa Rica fan pens
a message to Hodgson’s men after
watching his side clinch a
TITL 14 RED IS A SWATHE OF DUMMY last-16 spot thanks to a first-
half header from Ruiz (right)
You can write England off now: one Costa Rica fan pens a message to Hodgson’s men after watching his side clinch a TITL 14 RED IS A SWATHE OF DUMMY last-16 spot thanks to a first- half header from Ruiz (right)
 ??  ?? Feeling the heat:
Balotelli toils against Costa Rica
Feeling the heat: Balotelli toils against Costa Rica
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