Costa Rica proves that one game can change a lot

The Sports NetworkJune 15, 2014 

(SportsNetwork.com) - Group D figured to be one of the more interesting groups at the 2014 World Cup, and after Saturday's results, things got a whole lot more intriguing.

For the first time, three former World Cup winners were drawn together as four-time champions Italy, two-time winners Uruguay and 1966 victors England found themselves in Group D.

And then there was Costa Rica, a plucky side from the CONCACAF region that most observers expected to be more of a nuisance than a contender.

The other three teams would battle it out for the top two spots, while Los Ticos would try to play the role of the spoiler and just enjoy their tournament as long as it lasted.

However, that all changed on Saturday as Costa Rica scored a surprising 3-1 upset of Uruguay to turn Group D on its head.

Yes, Uruguay was playing without star forward Luis Suarez, who is still recovering from knee surgery last month. Yet even without the talented Liverpool frontman, few expected Uruguay to have much trouble with Costa Rica.

Edinson Cavani handed Uruguay a 1-0 lead with a penalty kick midway through the first half on Saturday, and at that point, it seemed as though Costa Rica's main objective would be to simply keep the game close.

The second 45 minutes, however, was a totally different story as Los Ticos took the game to Uruguay.

Whatever head coach Jorge Luis Pinto said at halftime must have resonated with his team because they were level in the 54th minute with a fine strike from Joel Campbell.

And from there, Pinto's men only seemed to grow in confidence as Oscar Duarte put his team into the lead three minutes later from a free kick that was straight off the training ground.

Cristian Bolanos lobbed a ball to the back post and Duarte got on the other end of it with a diving header that couldn't have been placed any better inside the far corner of the net.

Despite holding the lead, Costa Rica never considered just trying to see the game out and instead kept its foot on the gas in search of a third goal.

Six minutes from time, the team was rewarded with a goal of sheer quality as Campbell played a well-weighted through ball into the penalty area for Marco Urena, whose sublime first-time shot snuck inside the post and completed a win that was equal parts stunning and impressive.

Uruguay was a team that was expected to challenge for a spot in the quarterfinals and beyond at this World Cup, but Saturday's result has changed all of that.

Italy's 2-1 victory over England later in the day left Costa Rica at the top of the table, and with two group-stage games left, things are wide open.

Thursday's match between England and Uruguay now becomes a desperate struggle to stay alive, with the loser of this game being eliminated, something that was unthinkable prior to the start of the tournament.

A draw would keep both sides in the hunt, but would leave them with a lot of work to do if they want to find their way into the last 16.

Conversely, the winner of Friday's match between Costa Rica and Italy would take firm control of the group and could even secure a place in the knockout round, which was an equally unlikely scenario two days ago.

It would be another huge surprise if Costa Rica was able to break down a more organized and technically superior Italy team, but if Pinto's side plays with the same sort of passion and commitment they exhibited on Saturday, they might make the Azzurri work for the win.

Even with a loss to Italy, Costa Rica will have a chance to advance to the second round for only the second time in its history if the club can beat England in its final group match. That would represent a huge surprise considering Costa Rica was one of five teams that was given a 999/1 chance of winning the World Cup following the draw in December.

And while Costa Rica's win doesn't suddenly make the team a contender for the World Cup, it does add a bit of spice to the proceedings and serves as a reminder that it only takes one game to alter the landscape of this tournament.

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