Marcos Urena (right) and Daniel Cambronero celebrate after Costa Rica defeats Italy in a FIFA World Cup match on June 20, 2014, in Recife, Brazil. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)
RECIFE, Brazil-- Rather than get sidetracked by unacknowledged claims for a penalty kick after it appeared Joel Campbell was taken in the box, Costa Rica maintained its composure and kept playing football.
Little did the Ticos know that such commendable poise would be rewarded just 90 seconds later.
In the 44th minute, Junior Diaz’s left-sided cross was dutifully head home by team captain Bryan Ruiz at the far post.
That goal gave Costa Rica a 1-0 win over Italy on Friday and guaranteed it would get past the group stage for a second time in four all-time finals appearances.
“It was a good game and we're really pleased by how Bryan [Ruiz] got his goal at such an important time just before the interval,” said head coach Jorge Luis Pinto. “We were playing against an incredible team and we’re very proud.”
Pinto’s pride is certainly well placed.
When the draw was made last December for Brazil 2014, the Costa Ricans found themselves in a group that contained a trio of former champions: England, Italy and Uruguay.
A 3-1 opening win over the Uruguayans -- the Copa America holders – seemed to catch the world pleasantly by surprise. Little was made of the fact, though, that Costa Rica flourished during an 18-month stretch ahead of the competition.
In 2013, it won a seventh Central American title, reached the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals and finished second behind the United States in the final round of World Cup Qualifying.
Perhaps, only one win in five 2014 friendlies served to lessen expectations, but those taking such a view did so at their own risk.
For all the headlines that outstanding attackers Campbell and Ruiz are deservedly earning, it is Costa Rica’s defense that has played a large role in establishing success. The backline allowed a Hexagonal-low seven goals in 10 games and has conceded only once in two World Cup outings.
“I don’t want to seem like I’m being over-positive, but I honestly think that our defense was simply perfect today,” expressed Pinto. “It’s not easy to play against a team of Italy’s quality.”
To that point, the 61-year-old Colombian admitted that the four-time world champion has helped to shape his coaching philosophy.
“It must be said that much of what I now know about the game I owe to Italy, having always followed Italian teams,” Pinto noted.
Needing only a tie against England in its last Group D game to clinch first place, Pinto wants the Costa Rica contingent to enjoy the moment, but stay focused.
“Our players now have to be relaxed,” he concluded. “We need to savor this win, but also be ready to play well in our upcoming matches.”