Can Costa Rica follow their remarkable win over Uruguay with another over Italy, who themselves are looking to build on their win over England. Italy football expert Paolo Bandini goes head-to-head with his Costa Rica counterpart Eduardo Mendez in our latest expert v expert preview.
Paolo Bandini on Italy: Cesare Prandelli promised after the win over England that Gigi Buffon would be back in goal for this game, and it appears that he was right to do so. Italy’s captain got back to training on Monday and, although still not quite at 100%, has been good enough to reclaim his place. Prandelli is also expected to move Giorgio Chiellini back into the middle of defence after Gabriel Paletta struggled in that opening game.
Eduardo Mendez on Costa Rica: After a historic victory over Uruguay, the pressure is on Jorge Luis Pinto to keep his best XI on the pitch. Should he opt for a change, the one likely to be made would be in the midfield, seeing Jose Miguel Cubero in place of Yeltsin Tejeda. It’s an option Pinto has turned to in the past, but one he shouldn’t consider against Italy. Cubero doesn’t carry the same tenacity of his younger counterpart. Expect to see the same XI that defeated Uruguay in Fortaleza.
Paolo Bandini: As usual, Italy raised their game when it mattered – putting months of disappointing friendly performances behind them to claim a deserved win over England. They outran and outmanoeuvred Roy Hodgson’s men in Manaus, covering 3km more as a team, and completing 554 passes – the most of any team in a single game so far. But their display was still far from flawless. An inexperienced and unfamiliar defence struggled at times to keep up with England’s rapid interchanges, and gave up more shots on goal than they would have liked. A little sloppiness is probably understandable, though, when conditions are so hot and humid that several of your players left the field claiming to have experienced hallucinations.
Eduardo Mendez: Costa Rica’s riding its best run of form since the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan. Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Uruguay validated La Sele’s second-place finish in CONCACAF qualifying, leaving behind any doubts created by Pinto’s tinkering in the build-up to Brazil. There is no intimidation factor, and the team is accepting of any challenges on the horizon. Confidence is high. An inspired bunch is in Recife with every intention of qualifying for the Round of 16.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAY
Cesare Prandelli on Italy: “We need to beat Costa Rica now, otherwise we still won’t have achieved anything. Nobody even gave them any consideration. People who don’t know these teams make predictions just for the sake of giving them.”
Jorge Luis Pinto on Costa Rica: “It is a lie to say that all Italy do is defend. I do not share that viewpoint. It is a very balanced and structured team. To counter the style of play, we should try and keep possession of the ball.”
Paolo Bandini: Given how sharp Costa Rica looked up front against Uruguay, Italy may need to show greater coherence at the back to get through this one unscathed. Part of that comes down to personnel, but part of it also comes down to having a goalkeeper behind you who can communicate with his defence and make sure that everyone stays on the same page. Buffon might not be as agile as his younger counterparts, but few in the world are better at lending confidence to their team-mates
Eduardo Mendez: Pinto has been vocal about his tactics ahead of Friday’s encounter with Italy, with possession of the ball being his top priority. The responsibility of deploying his vision falls squarely on the shoulders of Celso Borges. According to the statisticians at WhoScored, the 26-year-old completed 41 of his 49 attempted passes against Uruguay, more than any other Costa Rican player. Borges’ ability to bring calmness and direction to the disruption caused by his midfield partner, Yeltsin Tejeda, will be vital to the team’s success.
Paolo Bandini: As encouraging as Italy’s performance against England was, I still have concerns about the defence, and with Chiellini moving back to the centre of defence there is a possibility we may see Ignazio Abate – who has been way below his best lately – back in at one of the full-back spots. I like both teams to score at 2.00.
Eduardo Mendez: Italy to score the first goal at 1.31. As inspired as the team claims to be, La Sele are habitually slow starters. In five of Costa Rica’s last seven matches, the opposition was put on the board first. That was the case against Uruguay on Saturday when Diego Lugano was awarded a penalty. Expect that to be the case today against a tougher Italian side.
Paolo Bandini: Italy 2-1 Costa Rica at odds of 9.00
Eduardo Mendez: Italy 2-0 Costa Rica at odds of 7.00
Bet on Group D now.