Group D, the group of death, is certainly living up to its reputation, as England got knocked out today while the surprise team of the tournament thus far, Costa Rica, moved to the top of a group and into the knock-out round. This was also a result that set up a knockout clash between Italy and Uruguay, adding extra spice to a match that already promised to be quite exciting. This result certainly affects the odds of success for the Italians according to traditional bookmaker, but then again, they thrive in playing in situations when expectations are at it’s least.
Formation & Line Ups
Italy: Buffon; Abate; Barzagli; Chiellini; Darmian; De Rossi; Pirlo; Motta (Cassano, 45); Marchisio (Cerci, 69); Candreva (Insigne, 57); Balotelli
Costa Rica: Navas; Gamboa; Duarte; Gonzalez; Umana; Diaz; Ruiz (Brenes, 81); Borges; Tejeda (Cubero, 68); Bolanos; Campbell (Urena, 74)
Scorers: Ruiz, 44
Costa Rica pushing up
Italy really dominated and controlled the game against England with some excellent passing. The primary reason behind this dominance was their ability to win the midfield battle, and get the ball to Andrea Pirlo, who then worked his magic. Italy pushed their full backs into midfield, and played the likes of Marchisio in advanced positions to try and have greater numbers in the central area; this was the basis of their midfield domination. It was very clear to the underdogs that they had to stop the Italian midfield from dominating the game. Costa Rica very well did so. The 3 at the back meant that they could add another man to midfield, and this automatically made it difficult for the Italians to control that area, as their man advantage was lost. Aside from this, Costa Rica played in a very narrow band on the field. Their defence pushed up, and the attackers were quite deep too. Italy couldn’t string together the long threads of passes that they had against the English, and lost their control on the game. Costa Rica allowed them to have the initiative, but didn’t allow them to control the game.
Costa Rica struggling on attacks
While they did very well to defend and stop the Italians playing their game, Costa Rica themselves had a hard time getting forward with any sort of potency and consistency. Italy had the initiative, but Costa Rica were more intent on foiling them. That’s why a lot of passes and moves were made in the initial third for Costa Rica. They struggled to get the ball out from defence to midfield, especially in the first half. They didn’t really have a good link between the two lines, and relied on their wide men to get forward and provide the vertical thrust. The wide men too, weren’t too keen to get forward, and were more concerned with protecting their own goal and their own zones. Eventually, the winning goal came from a cross, as Costa Rica took advantage of the overload out wide.
The other attacking avenue for Costa Rica was the use of set pieces. Jorge Luis Pinto was probably aware of the fact that focusing on foiling the impressive Italian midfield would mean sacrificing some of the attacking thrust. Therefore, Costa Rica tried their best to take full advantage of the set pieces they got. They had a well rehearsed corner routine which they employed about 3 times in the first half, and managed to trouble the Italian defence twice.
Thirdly, their pressing was also important in creating opportunities. Costa Rica had pushed themselves pretty high up the pitch, and were hassling the Italian players. This led to them winning the ball pretty high up the pitch on a number of occasions. The best example would be Mateo Darmian’s back pass in the first half, that led to a huge penalty appeal from the Costa Ricans. Aside from that too, Costa Rica managed to gain opportunities to get shots off at the Italian goal after winning ball possession in dangerous areas of the pitch.
Italy trying to exploit back 3
With Costa Rica making it very difficult for them to play to their strength in the middle of the park, Italy needed to look to the wide areas. Costa Rica pressed them in the middle, with 3 leading this strategy, and 1 sweeping up behind them. This, coupled with the fact that Costa Rica had only fielded 3 in the back meant that Italy were looking wide for their space. A lot of horizontal passes when they had the ball serves to make the point. Italy were struggling to achieve vertical penetration, and had to look to horizontal passes, and back passes to keep the ball, and look for an opening.
In the image above, you can see that a lot of passes in the midfield and defensive midfield area are square passes, meaning that Italy were playing a lot of these in the build up phase. This isn’t ideal, as it means that the attack slows down, and the midfielders and defenders looking to move play into the attacking phase are struggling to find options in front of them.
As a response to the problems encountered by Italy, Prandelli, through Pirlo, instructed Italy to play over the pressing block that Costa Rica had formed to try and get behind their defence. Balotelli was instructed to run off the shoulder of the last defender, along with the wing backs who started their runs from deeper parts of the pitch. This worked well, with Balotelli getting a golden opportunity which he wasted. Aside from that, the failure of this tactic was down largely to the poor timing of runs from the Italians. The Azzuri players were caught offside 11 times, which is a massive number. The right idea from the Italians then, lacking in execution though
Playing between the lines
With their attacking struggles in the first half, Cesare Prandelli decided that the team needed a shake up, and changed the style of attack. The aerial ball was discarded, as Italy tried to play between the lines. Antonio Cassano was brought on to be the focal point of the creativity, as Italy switched to a 4-2-3-1, with Cassano playing just off Mario Balotelli. Later in the half, even Lorenzo Insigne was brought on for a similar reason. These players managed to find some space to operate, with Cassano even blowing an incredible opportunity. However, they didn’t really trouble the Costa Rican defence enough, and failed to create enough chances to get back into the game.
KEY PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Giancarlo Gonzalez: This was no easy choice, as Costa Rica put in an incredible team effort to pick up a historic win for their country, and take them into the second round. Giancarlo Gonzalez is the pick due to his excellent marshaling of the back line. The 5 of Costa Rica caught Italy offside 11 times, managed to repel the attacks that originated in the middle of the park, and importantly, he was the man that took on, and beat Mario Balotelli in an important individual battle that probably won the game for Costa Rica. 5 tackles and 4 interceptions are proof of his steady presence at the back. Costa Rica will hope he can carry on this way in their next big game.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THEM?
For Costa Rica, this was a historic win, as they beat yet another top 10 team. This win was no fluke, with solid organisation and a lot of team work to credit for this. They will now try and top the group, with just a draw against a now eliminated England being enough to achieve that. Surely, there cant be too many who saw this coming. Years later, when we look back at this World Cup, we will think of Costa Rica with fondness for being the surprise team of this tournament.
The win for the Costa Ricans though, means that Tuesday will see Uruguay and Italy clash in what is essentially a knock out game. The Azzuri will be disappointed with themselves for not winning this one, and not even performing to their potential. They allowed Costa Rica to control the game, and couldn’t really break the lines even after Prandelli’s substitutions. Their fans will be hoping for the resumption of the usual service against a Suarez inspired Uruguay.