In a day that felt more important for England than for many of the teams playing, the build-up seemed to feel confident about every single result and it felt as if the world had already decided on the results before the first whistle even blew. Would Italy march over Costa Rica? Would France continue stomping out the memory of 2010? Would Honduras still look like one of the dirtiest teams to ever take the World Cup pitch? While the typical fan would be watching with interest, every English player and fan would be glued to the first match…would Italy save England’s lives?
Costa Rica vs Italy
The set-up was all that this match needed: a defensive Italian line-up named, but England needing Italy to win in order to keep their World Cup alive. For Costa Rica, the possibility to dethrone another massive team in their group and qualify for the knockout rounds sat a mere 90 minutes away. The opening exchanges were anything but intense, with Italy hoping for their quality to be enough to get goals and Costa Rica hoping for striker Joel Campbell to snag a goal on a counter-attack. Unlike England, Costa Rica were not going to let Pirlo have the same amount of time and freedom on the ball that it would take for the Italian maestro to unlock the game. The effect was immediate, as Italy seemed to have zero attacking ideas and began a theme of being caught offside every few minutes. Despite getting a few presentable chances, Balotelli was unable to find the back of the net.
Then, moments before halftime, a stone-cold penalty for Costa Rica was denied by a referee that seemed to avoid making any truly game-changing decisions on the day. But, despite missing out on the penalty, a fantastic cross and even better headed finish from Ruiz put Costa Rica up 1-0 (VIVA CONCACAF!). Would Italy be able to salvage anything after halftime? Sadly, outside of an on-target Pirlo free-kick, it actually seemed like Costa Rica would be the more likely squad to score. Italy continued to be baffled by the Costa Rican high defensive line, and just seemed uninterested in playing at their highest level. The jubilation after the final whistle for Costa Rica (who are now qualified for the knockout round, the new situation for Italy (must draw/win against Uruguay), and the immediate shift to what this means for England all descending at once. This World Cup is providing a massive boost to the perceived idea of CONCACAF…and Costa Rica deserve their achievement.
France vs Switzerland
While very few entered into the 2014 World Cup with this France team as one of the contenders, few have thought how little pressure is actually on this France team. As long as they do not descend into the madness of 2010, this team will be viewed as a success. This showed through in the first half against the Swiss as France showed some serious dominance. A switch by bringing Giroud in to start and sitting Pogba paid off immediately as Giroud rose highest on a corner to put Les Bleus up 1-0. Only moments later, a Swiss mistake in midfield led a swift counter from France and a placed shot from Matuidi. While the Swiss would threaten, it seemed like France would run away as they were awarded a penalty and the red-hot Benzema stepped forward to take it. However, the Real Madrid man would have to wait to add to his tally as his penalty was stopped and the game (for the time being) remained within Switzerland’s grasp.
While Switzerland would have hoped for halftime to arrive with the 2-0 scoreline, a lightning quick French counter from a Swiss corner resulted in a perfectly placed Giroud pass being turned in by Valbuena. The second half would be damage limitation from Switzerland. The second half would follow a very similar pattern to the first, witth France always looking dangerous and Switzerland looking low on ideas (much like their first fixture). So, unsurprisingly, Benzema would take the socre to 4-0 in the 67th minute with a well taken finish from one of the early favorites for the Golden Boot. Cissoko would then take it to 5-0, and would have the Swiss wishing that the last 15 minutes would end rather quickly. While France were piling on, Switzerland would snag the first direct-from-a-free-kick goal with a daisy-cutter that sliced right through the wall to make it 5-1. Then, Xhaka would make it a wee bit more interesting for the closing stages as he brought it to 5-2! Still, the French would walk away with a huge victory and some serious momentum into the end of the group stage.
Ecuador vs Honduras