Congratulations to Costa Rica, but Italy just never learns

The four-time world champion went down to a humiliating defeat in Recife, bringing back memories of its ignominious World Cup exit in 2010.

Costa Rica is quickly becoming the success story of the 2014 World Cup after adding Italy to Uruguay on its list of upsets and qualifying for the knockout stage, but Cesare Prandelli’s men can blame nobody but themselves for a 1-0 defeat in Recife on Friday.

The four-time world champion opened well enough but never once looked liked kicking on and producing any kind of performance. By the end they were left completely embarrassed by a team ranked 19 places below it in the FIFA World Rankings.

As the first half wore on, it was the Ticos who looked more comfortable in position, appearing more hungry as they sought to make space in the final third more quickly than their opponents.

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Italy had a fantastic opportunity to take the lead when Mario Balotelli went clean through against Keylor Navas. He chose the right option in lobbing the Costa Rica goalkeeper but somehow screwed the ball well wide of goal. The Azzurri were made to pay dearly.

It was lucky not to concede a penalty when Giorgio Chiellini bundled Joel Campbell over inside the box, but within a minute it was behind anyway.

Junior Diaz broke down the left and delivered a pinpoint cross to the far post, where Bryan Ruiz steered a header in off the underside of the bar as he ran at an angle away from goal.

It was a masterful piece of finishing and gave Costa Rica a lead it thoroughly deserved for not just competing with the Azzurri but bettering them by some way.

Prandelli changed things around at halftime by bringing on Antonio Cassano for Thiago Motta, but it had little impact. Costa Rica already had something to hang on to, and it gave its more revered rivals little room to maneuver.

Italy’s best chance of the second half came from distance, with fullback Matteo Darmian forcing Navas into a save with a fierce effort after cutting inside, but the fact it was a defender attempting to take the game to the opposition said much about Italy’s day.

Four years ago, Italy had the good fortune of a fairly straightforward group in which countless results fell in its favor. Even after draws against Paraguay and New Zealand, Italy was in fantastic position to qualify if it only could get the outcome needed against Slovakia. Instead, Italy lost and was leaving South Africa long before anyone had thought possible.

This time around it was meant to be different. It beat a lively England side Saturday and appeared to have learned its lesson from last time, but this performance just goes to show there are the same old failings in the mentality of this squad.

Where there should have been desire, energy and willing, there was lethargy, complacency and listlessness. It is just lucky it didn’t concede a second, which would have left it needing to beat Uruguay in Natal on Tuesday to qualify.

As it is, a point will do. But on this display, Italy will be fortunate to get that much. This World Cup campaign is fast beginning to feel much more like 2010 than 2006.

Italy needs to improve, and fast.

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