Costa Rica have been the story of this hugely entertaining World Cup, first beating Uruguay 3-1 and following up with a 1-0 win on Friday over Italy, a win that eliminated England from the World Cup.
The Ticos were meant to be chum for the sharks of this Group of Champions, so called because all of the nations in the group, save Costa Rica, have won at least one World Cup.
Making matters worse for Costa Rica, their three opponents are currently ranked 7, Uruguay, 9, Italy and 10, England in the FIFA World Rankings, while the Ticos are at 28. For now.
Against Italy Costa Rican coach Jorge Luis Pinto had his team perfectly drilled and his entire team played their roles to perfection. Costa Rica’s defensive discipline never broke, although Italy did have a couple of scoring chances early on.
The always controversial Mario Balotelli had two of the best, the first from a wonderful long range pass from the master Andrea Pirlo. Balotelli was in alone on advancing keeper Keylor Navas, but his put his looping shot wide of the net.
Navas denied Balotelli again soon after, and Mario was rarely heard from again, until he picked up a yellow card in the 69th minute for a typically petulant foul, a classic “Mario being Mario” moment.
Tellingly for Italy, that Pirlo pass to Balotelli was one of only six the bearded maestro completed in the final third. Credit must go to Costa Rica’s frustrating defense for that career worst World Cup stat from Italian string puller.
Costa Rica got the games only goal in the 44th minute, a fine header from Bryan Ruiz. Christian Bolanos and Junior Diaz were the set up men, with Ruiz delivering a perfect cross.
All three of the principals in that goal had very strong overall games, but then what man in a Costa Rica jersey did not?
Costa Rica have advanced to the round of 16 for just the second time in their history, and in doing so have turned the group of Champions upside down.
While the underdog story of Costa RIca has captivated, France’s redemption after their 2010 meltdown in South Africa, and the way in which they are accomplishing is right there with the Ticos.
Coming off a 4-0 whitewashing of Honduras in its first match France was better today against a superior opponent. France beat Switzerland 5-2 on Friday, but Switzerland trailed 5-0 when it scored two late goals, that were merely cosmetic.
Remember that France were on the verge of being eliminated from qualifying for this World Cup when they trailed Ukraine 2-0 after the first leg of a two game playoff. Les Blues won the second game 3-0 and now they are shaping up as a team that no one will want to play in Brazil.
The late game from Brazil featured two teams looking for their first win in the Mundial, Ecuador, and one, Honduras that was also searching for their first World Cup goal since 1982.
Carlo Costly erased that embarrassing streak for Honduras, and at least as importantly Costly’s
31st minute goal gave Los Catrachos the lead.
It wouldn’t last long. Just four minutes later Enner Valencia beat a group of stationary Honduras defenders to the ball in the Honduran goalmouth and the game was tied.
Valencia scored in Ecuador’s heartbreaking opening game loss, when Switzerland scored in the 93rd minute. It turned out that Valencia was not finished just yet. Valencia’s goal against the Swiss came when he outjumped the Swiss defense to head home a perfectly delivered restart from Walter Ayovi.
Honduras had to have seen the film, but as the saying goes, just because you know something is coming, doesn’t mean you can stop it. Honduras couldn’t stop it and Valencia buried Ayovi’s inch perfect free kick, and it was 2-1.
Honduras pressed hard for an equalizer, but Ecuador just about hung on, and now it is on to game three, with all four teams in Group B still alive, if barely in Honduras’s case.