Costa Rica stun Italy to oust England; crushing win for France
Recife: Former champions France were poised for a berth in the last-16 stage after pummelling Switzerland 5-2 while giant-killers Costa Rica pulled off another stunning show to beat Italy 1-0 and knock England out of the FIFA World Cup.
France, the 1998 champions, outclassed Switzerland in a group E clash to almost book a ticket for the pre-quarterfinals. In the final match of the evening, Ecuador beat Honduras 2-1 to keep their qualification hopes alive.
France were in complete command during their match against Switzerland which they won convincingly despite Karim Benzema missing a penalty.
The Real Madrid hitman did make amends with an opportunistic strike as did Olivier Giroud, with a header, and Blaise Matuidi off a counter. Diminutive Mathieu Valbuena and young Moussa Sissoko also didn’t miss out on converting the assists.
Benzema provided a couple of assists apart from scoring his third goal for the Les Bleus in the tournament.
The FIFA Rankings went for a toss as the higher ranked Swiss men (No 6) were outplayed by Didier Deschamps’ men as the French manager is in pursuit of becoming only the third player-turned-manager to win the World Cup for his country.
Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo are the ones who have achieved the coveted feat.
Benzema’s close-range strike and a Sissoko effort added further gloss in the second period, before Blerim Dzemaili and Xhaka bagged late consolation goals for the losing team.
France are now on the brink of the last 16 having taken a maximum six points, while Switzerland still have work to do in their final pool encounter with Honduras.
Switzerland’s woes started early when Steve von Bergen caught a boot in the face from Giroud and had to be replaced.
And Giroud was in the thick of the action again when he put France ahead in the 17th minute.
The Arsenal striker leapt highest to thump Valbuena’s corner past Benaglio who, despite getting a full hand to the ball, could not keep the effort out. Within 66 seconds, Frenchmen took complete control.
Benzema pounced on Valon Behrami’s poor pass before playing in Matuidi on the left of the box and he side-footed past Benaglio at the near-post, the goalkeeper perhaps beaten too easily.
France missed the chance to extend the lead in the 33rd minute when referee Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the spot after Johan Djourou recklessly felled Benzema.
However, Benaglio dived to his right to keep out Benzema’s spot-kick before Yohan Cabaye inexplicably volleyed the rebound against the crossbar. But France did get a third just five minutes before the break.
Raphael Varane brought the ball away following a Swiss corner before producing an exquisite pass that sent Giroud free down the left and he in turn laid the ball across goal for Valbuena, who could not miss from inside the six-yard box.
Earlier, Costa Rica, after upstaging Uruguay in their opening match, took down another former world champion by upstaging four-time winners Italy.
It was a 44th minute header by skipper and PSV Eindhoven striker Bryan Ruiz which confirmed a smooth passage for the Costa Ricans into the knock-out rounds from the ‘Group of Death’.
Having lost back to back group league matches, England thus became the second high-profile team after Spain to make an early exit from the championship. There are ominous signs for Uruguay and Italy as one of the two sides will also bid adieu from the preliminary stage after they lock horns in the final group league encounter.
While Azzurris need a draw to advance on a better goal difference, Uruguay can’t settle for anything less than a victory.
In the 43rd minute, Costa Rica were denied a penalty when their striker Joel Campbell latched on to a ball from middle-third and sprinted down inside the box before being felled by Giorgio Chiellini but referee Enrique Osses thought otherwise.
But within a minute, the Costa Ricans got their lead as left wing back Junior Diaz sent a measured cross from the left before Ruiz evaded the duo of Chiellini and Matteo Darmian to head home. The ball hit the horizontal before crossing the goalline beating a full stretched Gianluigi Buffon.
The opening half could be divided into three distinct parts with first and last phase belonging to Costa Rica.
The first 15 minutes belonged to Costa Rica who pressed really hard with Cristian Bolanos’ inswinging corner saw Celso Borges head wide off the target despite wrong anticipation on Buffon’s part.
Bolanos, Gamboa and Campbell took control of the midfield during that phase as Mario Balotelli cut a lonely figure upfront.
The next 20 minutes saw Italy get into the game as their midfield artist Andrea Pirlo got into the action providing a couple of assists for Balotelli.
In their ‘Battle of Survival’ against Honduras, striker Enner Valencia struck twice on either side of the break in the 34th and 65th minute to provide Ecuador with full points and hopes of qualification for the second round.
It was a come-from-behind win for the Ecuadorians after Carlos Costly got Honduras ahead in the 31st minute.
Ecuador now are placed second in the group behind France and will like to put up a spirited fight against the 1998 World Cup winners.