Costa Rica snagged a surprising three points in their 3-1 opening match win over heavily favored Uruguay while Italy out-dueled England in a 2-1 clash. Now the two nations square off for the top spot in the World Cup Group D standings.
This match should sufficiently test whether Costa Rica’s win over Uruguay was a by-product of everyone underestimating their ability or Uruguay’s lack of offensive bite due to Luis Suarez‘s absence.
Italy’s already stiff defense will receive a boost with the return of fullback Mattia De Sciglio and all-time-great goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon — knocks had held them out of the contest against England. Italy’s defense was able to fend off many chances from an impressive English attack in their first game and possess great discipline that will be difficult for any team to break down.
Italy also possess an ageless wonder in deep-lying midfielder Andrea Pirlo whose ability to calmly distribute under pressure and organize his team’s offense is unmatched at this level.
On the other side of the pitch, Costa Rica has Arsenal striker Joel Campbell, whose wonder strike leveled the match for his Ticos against Uruguay. Campbell is only 21 years old, but has caused problems for Uruguay’s defense like a veteran and should provide a nice test for the Italian back line. It should be noted that Campbell has piqued the interest of other major clubs since his performance in the opening match and he will be one to keep an eye on going forward.
Costa Rica also has one of the premier goalkeepers in the World Cup in Keylor Navas, who plays for Levante UD in La Liga. Navas stood out in their opening match as he made a handful of tough saves to keep his Ticos ahead as the match wore on.
The Ticos will face a more difficult challenge on defense against a more well-rounded side in Italy, which will field a world-class midfield as well as lightning rod striker Mario Balotelli, who has all the tools to be one of the best strikers in the world because he has the aerial prowess as well as the ground game, but his two problems have always been consistency and mental toughness. When Balotelli is on, Italy look nearly unbeatable and while Costa Rica may be a slight step down in competition from England, he cannot treat them as such.
Costa Rica would do well to follow England’s blueprint from their match against Italy and attack with pace on the counter. England was a bit unlucky to score more and had a great deal of chances on net. In fact, the game plan is not far off from how they scored their first and last goal against Uruguay; chances on set pieces like Costa Rica’s second goal will be few and far between due to Italy’s defensive discipline. They must optimize their speed on the counter to create offensive opportunities.
Italy’s key to winning this game will be to utilize their incredible patience on the ball in the offensive third to frustrate Costa Rica and look to isolate Balotelli as often as possible. Italy’s wide play and early crosses into the box resulted in Balotelli’s winning goal. They should look to switch the ball frequently through Pirlo and attack through their wide players again where they should be very successful.
Prediction: Italy 2, Costa Rica 0.