On Thursday, Italy take on Costa Rica, a match between the two teams that won their opening games in Group D. Before the tournament, some would have believed that Italy would go into the game with three points under their belt, but few would have believed that the Costa Ricans would go into the game top of the group. Italy showed their experience and quality to beat England in their opening game. A win in this fixture will almost certainly confirm their qualification for the knock out stages. After beating Costa Rica 3-1, a win for Costa Rica will also see them likely contenders to qualify for the knock-out stages. This would equal their best run in the competition, as they reached the round of 16 in 1990. If they are to achieve this again, they will have shocked much of the footballing world in the process.
The Italians are still unsure whether goalkeeper and Captain Gianluigi Buffon will be able to play any part in the tournament. Paris Saint Germain goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu deputised on Saturday night and he will be expected to do the same if Buffon is ruled out. Defender Mattia De Sciglio also missed the opening game for the Azzuri. This saw Giorgio Chiellini moved over to left back and if De Sciglio doesn’t recover he can be expected to continue there.
Costa Rica have no new injury problems going into the fixture. They will be expected to name the same team that played against Uruguay.
- The two teams have only met once in international football. This fixture was a friendly that took place in 1994 where Italy won the game 1-0. This will therefore be the two teams’ first World Cup meeting.
- Italy have gone into the World Cup with mixed form; although they won against England in their first game, they have drawn six, won three and lost two of their last 11 games. These games were mainly friendlies, but the losses came against Argentina and Spain.
- Italy’s pass completion of 93% was the highest in tournament History
- Despite also winning their first game, Costa Rica have not been in the best form as they have drawn two, won four and lost six of their last eleven games.
- Costa Rica have never won two consecutive games at the World Cup, but they have scored in all six of their World Cup games against teams from Europe.
Mario Balotelli continues to show good form for his international team in tournament competition. The Milan forward scored the winner against England and has shown that he can be a match winner for the Italians once again. Balotelli has shown he has all the attributes to succeed on the world stage. His finishing in particular is what gives him a dangerous edge for Italy. He attempted four shots on Saturday night, two of which were off target, one was blocked and the other was a goal. At international level, getting on the score sheet is the most important thing so Cesare Prandelli will not be too upset with Balotelli if he has a few attempts before actually scoring. He bears the burden of being Italy’s goal threat and if he continues at his current level, he will fulfil it capably.
Joel Campbell is someone who before this season and this tournament was only known by more studious fans of Arsenal. A good season and at Olympiacos, which included a strong performance against Manchester United, has seen the Costa Rican hit man come onto the common football fans radar. During his time at Olympiacos he managed eight league goals and twelve assists. It is his creative ability that has been understated, being able to create from wide positions, as well as being a focal point when employed up front. In the game against Uruguay, Campbell managed to get on the score sheet and contribute an assist for his team. Having a hand in two of his countries three goals show the importance that Campbell holds within his team. He will play a key role if Costa Rica are to beat Italy on Thursday.
Before the tournament this would have been down for an Italian win, but Costa Rica’s performance against Uruguay has given them the tag of surprise package. Uruguay were poor in the second half on Saturday, and this may have obscured the level that Costa Rica performed at. Nonetheless they won comfortably and in a World Cup confidence plays a big factor. The Italians also go into the game with some confidence and their experience should be too much for the Costa Ricans. I predict a 1-0 Italy win.
Stats via: Four Four Two StatsZone