Italy's inconsistency could cost them ticket to Round of 16
Italy's Andrea Pirlo controls the ball during their 2014 World Cup Group D soccer match against Costa Rica at the Pernambuco arena in Recife June 20, 2014. (REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler)
Italy’s world was turned upside down in 90 minutes and staring at them from the top … Costa Rica.
It was but a few days ago that Italy defeated England, 2-1, and for the next few days they heard about how they were a threat for a World Cup title.
At the same time, Costa Rica had just defeated Uruguay, 3-1. What did they hear over the next days? They heard about how the win was nothing but a fluke and that would be the last sign of success they’d see.
Now the question is, what game was the fluke?
Costa Rica stunned a soccer power for the second game in a row when they shocked Italy, 1-0, on Friday. It was the first time Italy lost to a CONCACAF team in its World Cup history.
The win did a lot of things.
It guaranteed Costa Rica a trip to the second round. It eliminated England from any chance of advancing, and it put Italy under the gun against Uruguay. All Italy needs to advance is a tie.
But that’s no guarantee.
For now we say arrivederci. After Uruguay, it might be addio.
Italians would say their side stunk like a week-old fish. Italy’s performance was as tough to swallow as poorly prepared tripe.
They played as if they were looking forward to getting off the field and enjoying a nice plate of pasta and Sangiovese. Perhaps desert should be humble pie.
The win against England might have gone to their heads because they showed no energy.
This team was unrecognizable when compared to the team that played England.
“We deserved to lose,” said Italian coach Cesare Prandelli to the Italian media. “They were more aggressive than we were. We have to rebuild out energy. We won’t panic.”
As for Uruguay: “We don’t fear Uruguay.”
Perhaps he may want to reconsider those remarks after two words . . . Luis Suarez. If the Uruguay striker is set loose against the Italian defence, especially Giorgio Chiellini, he’ll play them like a bag of toys.
The referee missed a clear penalty call on Chiellini when he bundled over Ticos’ Joel Campbell. Then Chiellini was late getting to an open Bryan Ruiz who headed home the game’s only goal in the 44th minute.
While Italy was dreadful, full marks go to Costa Rica. The Ticos were never over-awed by Italy. They pressured Italy, threw a blanket over them defensively and were full value for the win.
Mind you, that was easy considering Italy were running like they wearing concrete shoes.
Italy rarely does anything easily at these tournaments. Usually, it’s a slow start. This time around, it was a sudden disappearance in a game that could have made things easy for them.
After England’s loss to Uruguay, the discussion focused on what needed to happen for England to survive or be eliminated and what would be needed by Italy to qualify.
Too much mathematics, perhaps, and not enough worry about actually winning their game.
“What have you done for me lately” is never more evident than in soccer. A poll in an Italian newspaper that carried the headline “This time Italy is a disaster” wanted to know who was to blame for the loss.
Everything finished a distant second to casting blame on Prandelli’s lineup choices.
In an effort to spark his team, he finished the game with four strikers, including Antonio Cassano and Lorenzo Insigne. Unfortunately, there is only one ball on the pitch at any one time and some of these players were never taught to share.
They were all mesmerizingly bad.
The loss stoked the angst of a nation that must now wait four days to find out whether it will laugh or cry.
“Another Italian flop,” said La Gazzetta dello Sport, even with the game versus Uruguay still to be played.
Whatever you do, do not mention England 1966 and North Korea to an Italian in the same sentence.
The angst will translate in full-blown wailing.
It will be four days of heart palpitations and reliving previous horrors for Italian fans as they wait for Italy’s final group game against Uruguay on Tuesday.
That game will determine whether Italy will move on in Brazil, or go home. Italy can do no worse than a tie to survive.
Suffering through past failures is like a cilice tied around a leg to remind one of their sins. Italian soccer fans have lived through spectacular successes, but nothing hurts quite like the spectacular failures.
Thursday, Italy added another spike to the cilice -- this one a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica. The unexpected defeat has put the Italians in a perilous situation at this World Cup.
After an opening game win over England, most Italians expected at least one point against Costa Rica, if not an outright win and virtual qualification for the second round.
Flash back four years ago to South Africa where the defending World Cup champions were in what could only be considered a lightweight group made up of Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.
Italy was already making plans for the second round.
They didn’t panic much after a 1-1 tie with Paraguay because New Zealand was up next. A smidgen of worry began to build when Italy only managed to tie the Kiwis, 1-1.
Slovakia was another lightweight, but it went up 2-0 against Italy and hung on for a 3-2 win.
Not only had Italy not qualified for the second round, it finished a humiliating last in a group that was considered the easiest of the World Cup.
Before this year’s tournament began, Italian goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu said the team remembered 2010.
“It is our goal to wipe out those memories,” he said.
Now they may be reliving them. Not that Costa Rica, Uruguay and England is an easy group but Italy had a chance to be in a dominant position by beating a team it should have beaten.
If Italy manages to somehow get eliminated this time around, they may find the same kind of reaction Italy’s 1966 national team received when it bombed out of the England World Cup.
Italy needed only a draw against North Korea to move beyond the group stage.
North Korea did not have a lot of international experience and the average size of their players was 5-foot-5. The Koreans scored late in the first half (much like Costa Rica did Friday) and made it stand up the rest of the way (much like Costa Rica did), sending Italy home.
It was a soccer embarrassment of heinous proportions and the Italians knew what the reaction would be at home.
In order to avoid enraged fans, the team changed their flight so it would arrive home in the middle of the night.
No such luck. The fans were waiting for them and with them were bushels of rotten tomatoes.
Oh, by the way, Italy and North Korea were in Group 4 for that tournament, the equivalent of Group D, the same group Italy and Costa Rica are in this time around.