After Luis Suarez put England to the sword on Thursday, it was the turn of yet another England-based player – Bryan Ruiz -- who ended English interest at this FIFA World Cup 2014 as Costa Rica, the irrepressible, fearless and as-well-drilled-as-they-come unit pocketed another big scalp, that of the mighty Italy.
A precise, hard-fought and thoroughly deserving 1-0 victory for Costa Rica in Recife, courtesy a pinpoint header from Ruiz, means the Central Americans, tipped by many to finish rock bottom of the Group of Death – Group D -- are through to the last 16, after consecutive wins over Uruguay and Italy. England are knocked out of the tournament, following their two straight losses, while Italy and Uruguay are now left to slug it out for the other qualifying place when they face off in a win-or-go-home battle in Natal on Tuesday.
The match was a slow burner, taking quite a while to catch fire, but when it did, boy was there was excitement and goalmouth action. Neither team found their rhythm in the first half hour, as they sized each other up, giving time for Andrea Pirlo to warm up to the occasion.
Both of Italy's best chances were created by their midfield maestro, with the opportunities falling to the feet of Mario Balotelli, who will feel he should have put at least one, if not both of those away.
The first came via a peach of a ball from Pirlo, inch-perfect lifted over the Costa Rica defence and zoned into the feet of Balotelli. The Italy striker took a heavy first touch, but the chance was still there to be taken. Balotelli looked to lift the ball over the advancing Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas, but miscued his effort, with the ball just spinning away from the goal.
A couple of minutes later and Balotelli had another chance, off another pass from Pirlo, which was headed on by Thiago Motta, in for Marco Verratti in the starting XI, with the ball falling to the striker, who at least hit the target this time, but straight to Navas, who held on at the second attempt.
Christian Bolanos got Costa Rica's first decent shot on target, forcing a nice save from Gianluigi Buffon, back in the lineup after recovering from an ankle injury, as the Central Americans again showed no fear, with no fears of being weighed down by increased expectations, following their tremendous win over Uruguay.
Two minutes before the second half, and Costa Rica looked destined to score, after Joel Campbell ran past the Italy defence, leaving Andrea Barzagli for dead before preparing himself to unleash a shot in goal. However, Giorgio Chiellini, whose miscommunication with Matteo Darmian had allowed the Costa Rica forward to run clear, prevented Campbell from taking a strike by clearing barging into him from behind.
Campbell went down, but Chilean referee Enrique Osses much to everyone's surprise, and Chiellini's immense relief, waved play on – it was a stonewall penalty, and could have easily been a red card as well, with Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto quite right to go bonkers on the touchline.
However, justice was served two minutes later via Bryan Ruiz, who headed the ball over the line off the underside of the crossbar – goalline technology coming into play again to confirm the goal – from a perfectly picked out cross from wingback Junior Diaz as Costa Rica went into the break with an impressive lead.
Cesare Prandelli made an attacking change at halftime, bringing on the mercurial Antonio Cassano for defensive midfielder Motta, and a little later the tricky Lorenzo Insigne as well. Italy definitely cranked up the pressure in the second 45, with Cassano unable to make use of an opportunity after finding himself in plenty of space, before Darmian and Pirlo forced good saves from the ever impressive Navas.
As the Costa Rica defence showed no signs of being breached, though, Italy grew more and more desperate, with Alessio Cerci, throw in for Claudio Marchisio, also unable to provide the moment of inspiration as the underdogs pulled off yet another spectacular result.