“I’ve been watching Italy for many World Cups,” says Costa Rica manager
At kickoff, Arena Pernambuco was 70 percent full with a remarkable number of Costa Rican fans. They had two full sections and numerous outposts around the arena. As if to match them, the Italian team sang their anthem in full voice, led by returning goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and coach Cesare Prandelli.
During the Costa Rican anthem, the team did this adorable thing where they all scrunched together and put their arms on each other’s shoulders, leaving the child mascots hanging out on the end, alone and ignored.
The game started. Costa Rica, with five at the back, played together, absorbing pressure. Center backs Giancarlo González and Michael Umaña marked Mario Balotelli. He had two chances—a chip in the 31st minute that he shouldn’t have missed and a blast that went right at Keylor Navas less than 90 seconds later. Andrea Pirlo ran around a bit more cluelessly than usual, resplendent hair just a touch out of place. “Ole Ole Ole Ole Ticos” rang out from the stands; it did not feel like Italy’s day.
Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell should have earned a penalty in the 43rd minute. It didn’t matter, as Bryan Ruiz scored off a Junior Diaz cross moments later. The stadium exploded with cheers, Twitter did the same with tweets about justice. Campbell ran at referee Enrique Osses to complain anyway.
“Happy” was the last song that played before second-half kick off. The stadium official cut it halfway through, with the Ticos still in a tight huddle in the middle of their side of the field. Italy stood bored, spread out in its formation. The Italian journalist next to me said some words I didn’t understand that were definitely naughty in nature.
Italy tried to score but Costa Rica—rapidly becoming the darling of the World Cup—kept its shape and its determination. By the time Pirlo drilled a free kick off José Cubero who wouldn’t get out of the way, his frustration was evident.
If the game plan looked familiar, that’s because it was. “Many things I do, I’ve learned from Italy,” Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto would say after the game. “I’ve been watching them for many World Cups.”
The Ticoes played their part to perfection, waltzing convincingly into the round of 16. Italy did a poor impersonation of itself.
As Pirlo walked off the field after the final whistle, Campbell ran up and asked to exchange shirts. The Italian star acquiesced, then continued on his route to the locker room. Before he reached the touch line, he took a quick look over his shoulder as if to say, What just happened? Or, perhaps, why always me? He disappeared into the tunnel.