By DAN KARELL
Costa Rica can no longer be considered minnows in the big ocean that is the World Cup.
For the second straight match, Los Ticos stunned a higher ranked opponent at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, this time defeating Italy, 1-0, at the Arena Pernambucano in Recife. Bryan Ruiz’s header just before halftime proved to be the difference as Costa Rica stifled the Italian midfield and frustrated the Azzurri attack.
Goal-line technology was used to prove the header crossed the line.
With the win, Costa Rica has qualified for the knockout stage for the second time in the CONCACAF nation’s history, while England has officially been eliminated from the World Cup.
Costa Rica pressed high up the field from the opening whistle, forcing turnovers from Italy’s midfield, a midfield that looked so sound on Saturday against England. Los Ticos looked much more comfortable with the heat, which allowed them to keep up the pressure as well as relieve pressure when dribbling out of the back.
Not long after Costa Rica goalkeeper Keilor Navas made a nice diving save on a half-volleyed strike from Italy’s Mario Balotelli, Los Ticos had a strong shout for a penalty kick, as forward Joel Campbell was taken out by Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini.
Though Costa Rica head coach Jorge Luis Pinto lost his cool at the no-call, Costa Rica settled down and found a goal just before the halftime break.
The game-changing moment came in the 44th minute, as Costa Rica left back Junior Diaz advanced down the left wing. Diaz sent in a booming cross towards the far post, a cross that Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon misjudged. After initially coming off his line, Buffon retreated, allowing Ruiz a clean header.
Ruiz’s header smashed off the underside of the crossbar and just crossed the line, confirmed moments later by goal-line technology, giving Costa Rica the 1-0 lead.
Italy controlled possession in the second half but was very sloppy with the ball, turning it over and allowing Costa Rica to counter attack in the heat.
Navas came up big in the second half for Costa Rica as well, forcing a Mattio Darmian shot from the inside left channel over the bar and producing a diving save on an Andrea Pirlo free kick in the 53rd minute.
Costa Rica’s five-man back line kept the door shut on Balotelli, and Christian Bolaños and Celso Borges both worked hard defensively and initiated counter attacking opportunities to relieve Los Ticos from pressure.