Costa Rica secured its ticket to the Round of 16 at this year’s tournament in Brazil by beating Italy 1-0. A close-range header from captain Bryan Ruiz near the stroke of halftime gave Costa Rica the victory in front of a raucous crowd in Recife.
“We’ve dreamed about this and we had the faith to accomplish it,” said the exhausted yet elated twenty-eight year old after the final whistle.
“We were in the group of death but the others are the ones who are dead,” added Ruiz who started in last Saturday’s 3-1 upset over Uruguay.
Ignoring their supposed role of World Cup minnows, Costa Rica was not troubled by Italy despite Mario Balotelli coming close in the 32nd minute when he mishit a lob with only goalkeeper Keylor Navas to beat. The Central American side could’ve lost control when Chilean ref Enrique Osses refused to give a penalty shot after Joel Campbell was apparently fouled in the area. But a minute after the non-call by Osses, the Ticos grabbed the lead through Ruiz off a stellar cross from Junior Diaz.
Costa Rica’s organized play, crisp passing and neutralizing of Andrea Pirlo ensured that the Azzuri would not come close to grabbing the equalizing goal in the second half.
“We did what we needed to do (and) we took away the game from the Italians,” Costa Rica’s Colombian-born coach Jorge Luis Pinto said following the match.
The emotional Pinto dedicated the win over the four-time World Cup champs to one of Costa Rica’s biggest detractors.
“(Portuguese soccer coach José) Mourinho said that we wouldn’t be able to surprise two of the big teams. Well he cannot say that anymore,” Pinto said about the so-called “Special One.”
The doubters may also include FIFA that called on seven Tico players to take part in official anti-doping tests after their second consecutive group victory. But the naysayers were of no concern for some of the thousands of fans who flooded the streets of the Costa Rican capital city of San José to celebrate tonight:
“I can’t describe what it feels like to see this. We are beating champions, playing like champions, we are champions,” said Sele fan Rolando Jiménez…
Costa Rica’s Cinderella story continues on Tuesday when they face England with the possibility of an unprecedented three wins in three group matches. Not too shabby for a squad who missed the past World Cup in South Africa.
“It was a historic triumph, nobody expected it, and when I say nobody, I’m talking about the entire planet. Costa Rica won because they were mentally focused, they believed in themselves and there was unity among the squad,” Sele fan Dennis Alonso, 26, said after the match.
Online Sources – La Nacion; ESPN Deportes; Tico Times; ABC News; Teletica