Thrilling Costa Rica can make World Cup history

Los Ticos have been playing with a verve that suggests they could be in for their best World Cup performance




(Bryan Ruiz 44)

Costa Rica's qualification for the second round of the World Cup certainly counts as a surprise, but nothing about the manner of their 1-0 victory over the Italians yesterday morning (Singapore time) suggests it is lucky or undeserved.

Group D rivals England have been eliminated and Italy and Uruguay will fight to join Costa Rica in the last 16, after the Ticos produced another classy and confident display.

Christian Bolanos, Bryan Ruiz and Junior Diaz were not names that anyone expected to be talking about when it came to decisive players in a group that was considered one of the toughest in the tournament.

Yet, all three were outstanding in Recife in an intelligent and controlled victory over the Italians that was a credit to the astute work of their Colombian coach, Jorge Luis Pinto.

A Costa Rica win over Italy should have been a major shock, considering the underdogs were battling it out with the four-time world champions, but instead it felt like a relatively routine win for the Central Americans.

After their 3-1 opening win over Uruguay, also achieved with a degree of comfort, Costa Rica have qualified for the knockout stage with a game to spare. A win against already-eliminated England will make sure of top spot in the group.

If they do take first place, Costa Rica can feel realistically confident of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time - their opponents would be the second-placed team in Group C - currently led by Colombia with Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece fighting for the other spot.

The performance of Los Ticos so far has been even more impressive considering that before the tournament they lost their leading striker Alvaro Saborio to injury, adding to the absence of left-sided Everton midfielder Bryan Oviedo.

Pinto and the team were left distraught at the knee injury to the popular Saborio, but they have responded by altering their system and arguably producing a more effective approach without their target man.

With Saborio as the focal point of their attack in qualifying, Costa Rica were at times too direct and somewhat predictable, but the forward pairing of Ruiz and Joel Campbell with the support of Yeltsin Tejeda from deep, have become a modern, mobile trio who have stretched defences.

Campbell was the star of the win over Uruguay but, against Italy, it was Ruiz who provided the main threat - not only scoring the winning goal with a firm header, but constantly irritating the Italian defence with his smart movement and close touch.

On the left, in the absence of Oviedo, Diaz has taken on greater responsibility with his surging runs down the flank and his cross for Ruiz's goal (above) was perfectly executed.

The heart of the side, though, as he was through an impressive Concacaf qualifying campaign, has been Bolanos.

Like Ruiz at Fulham in England, Bolanos has not been in top form with Danish side FC Copenhagen last season but, with his national team, he has exuded confidence bordering on arrogance.

It is no mean feat to overshadow Andrea Pirlo in the creative midfield department but that is what Bolanos did with some style against the Italians.

Pinto has created the flexibility in his midfield to allow the 30-year-old to float wide and push forward at will and that freedom has allowed Bolanos to shine.

Costa Rica's results are arguably the best that they have managed at a World Cup.

Los Ticos also reached the last 16 in 1990 with wins over Scotland and Sweden, but their wins at this World Cup have come against two top-10 ranked opponents.

And there is something about the business-like way in which they have despatched Uruguay and Italy that suggests they may go on to cause a few more surprises, yet. - Reuters.

Maybe there are a lot of people who didn’t have faith in us because we were in the ‘Group of Death’. But it’s the others who are dead... that’s what I told my players — let’s change history. It was a beautiful match and the people of Costa Rica deserve this day.

- Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto

World Cup