Italy vs. Costa Rica: 50-50 Challenge
Our expert bloggers will give their thoughts ahead of each game, so as Italy take on Costa Rica Group D, Mina Rzouki (Italy) and Matt Levin (Costa Rica) are your guides.
What's at stake?
Mina Rzouki: Italy and Costa Rica both won their opening game, exposing their opponents' naivety in the process. Now they chase their second consecutive victory to progress in the competition.
The teams may have never faced each other in a competitive match, but they do share a love of organised football. Both Costa Rica and Italy understand the value of a solid defence and the power of the collective. There are differences, though. While Cesare Prandelli's men prefer a more composed game that relies on intelligent passes forward to preserve energy, Jorge Luis Pinto's men play an energetic game that fully focuses on exploiting the pace within the squad.
Matt Levin: Following Costa Rica's upset of Uruguay, the Ticos are another shocking win away from a spot in the round of 16. Italy -- the country, not the football squad -- conjures up pleasant memories for any Costa Rican sports fan. It was where Costa Rica played in their first World Cup in 1990, and reached the knockout round for, thus far, the only time in the nation's history. As for the Italian and Costa Rican national squads, they've only met once before, a 1-0 Azzurri triumph in 1994. Italy have to be the favourites to take Group D, courtesy of their victory over England. But the Ticos top the standings thanks to goal difference and would like to prove that the decisive 3-1 win over Uruguay was no fluke.
MR: A player of exceptional intelligence, Claudio Marchisio's work off the ball could well prove key in this match. Understanding the game and how to position himself, he is always the first to sacrifice personal glory to enhance the rhythm of his team. It may well be his running, positioning and understanding of both his defensive and attacking duties that will spur his team on.
ML: Bryan Ruiz. Where was the team captain against Uruguay? It's not like Ruiz looked terrible against La Celeste, but the attacking midfielder shouldn't be satisfied with being merely adequate in this line-up. Costa Rica's highest-paid player must be more of a playmaker against Italy. The other major factor is the climate and whether either team is as conditioned as they claim. Costa Rica and Italy will battle beneath the blistering midday heat in Recife. The Ticos insist they have an edge here against the Europeans and they shouldn't wilt in the final 20 minutes like the English did in Manaus.
MR: Left alone on many occasions to battle it out and push his team forward, Joel Campbell proved his talent against Uruguay. His control of the ball, mesmerising pace and the coach's faith in his talent has allowed the youngster to progress, demonstrating confidence as he makes his direct runs forward.
ML: Andrea Pirlo. Despite having months to prepare, England could do nothing to knock the Italian veteran off his game. The Azzurri completed a World Cup record 93 percent of their passes in the 2-1 win. Pirlo was on target with all but five of his 108 passes. The Juventus midfielder is a genius at controlling tempo, allowing his team to dominate possession and set up the attack. Pirlo's cohorts Marco Verratti and Daniele De Rossi are equally formidable, meaning Costa Rica might not get many chances to unleash the attack that destroyed the Uruguayans. Defensive midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda, who's receiving attention from some notable international clubs after his standout performance against Uruguay, will have an even bigger opportunity to prove himself against Pirlo.
MR: Costa Rica vs. Pirlo. The majestic playmaker is always the key figure for the sides he plays for and impressed again against England. However, against the Central Americans, Italy will need their wizard in midfield to hold control the tempo and deliver when necessary to cope with the Central Americans' energetic style of play.
Uruguay lost their opening game due to their lack of creativity and their inability to exploit key areas. Running in straight lines, they were blocked rather easily. Against Italy, the Costa Ricans will be up against a player capable of occupying the right spaces to deliver defence-splitting passes to his teammates.
ML: Campbell vs. Italy's defence. The football world hailed 21-year-old Joel Campbell for the way he made Uruguay's back line look silly throughout Costa Rica's opening game. He scored once, had a brilliant assist and drew seven fouls, including a red card. Meanwhile, many considered the Italian defence the team's biggest liability against England. Gabriel Paletta and Giorgio Chiellini were criticised for their defensive lapses, but the English failed to capitalise when given openings. Campbell, looking carefree and unbothered by the pressure of the World Cup, will surely make the Italians pay if given the same opportunities.
MR: The heat may well prove the difference, as the last time Italy played in Recife, they struggled to contain Japan's energetic style of play in their Confederations Cup match.
While the Azzurri may be technically superior, Costa Rica are confident and well balanced. Although I'd say 1-1 is a logical prediction as both sides are well balanced, I am going to go for 2-1 to Prandelli's men, as Italy's intelligence may well spell success.
ML: Italy to win 2-1. If Costa Rica can disrupt Italy's midfield and tire down the Azzurri in Recife, then the Ticos could have a shot late to tie or even win this clash. But that's a big "if."