Italy must not underestimate Costa Rica like Uruguay did

COMMENT: The Azzurri know only too well that they will be made to suffer in Recife on Saturday afternoon - either by their opponents or the oppressive heat
Almost exactly a year ago, Italy's players trudged off off the field at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife. They had just beaten Japan 4-3 in one of the greatest international games of the modern era but you would not have known it. They looked deflated; they were simply drained. They could not bring themselves to celebrate their victory. They didn't have the energy.

"We really, really suffered," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli admitted in his post-match interview. "We need to deal better with the climate; it's really difficult."

Worryingly for the Azzurri, that game took place at night. Friday's World Cup meeting with Costa Rica will kick off at 13:00 local time. It is a nightmare scenario for Italy: they will be playing in sweltering heat and suffocating humidity, at the worst possible time, against a side well used to the weather.
As Prandelli pointed out on the eve of the Group D clash, "South and Central American teams have the advantage here because they live and work in these conditions." Costa Rica are well aware that the venue favours them.

"It's really hot here,” winger Christian Bolanos stated on Wednesday. "We know that the climate will be better for Costa Rica. People from Europe find this type of climate tough. For Costa Rica, it is much more similar to what we are used to.

"The Europeans have to adapt a little bit more. They have to change some things [about how they play] a little bit because of that. We know that we have to take advantage of that."

Worse still for Italy, Costa Rica will be brimming with belief when they take to the field at Arena Fonte Nova thanks to a sensational start to their World Cup campaign. Written off before the tournament had even begun, Jorge Luis Pinto's men blew Group D wide open by defeating Uruguay 3-1 in Fortaleza. This was no fluke win either. This was a fully merited victory over a side still containing several members of the squad that finished fourth in South Africa four years ago.

Prandelli insisted that he had not been surprised by the result. "We've known the draw for months, so we've closely studied this very well organised squad, who know their system of play off by heart," the Italy coach explained. "What we saw in Fortaleza tied in with exactly what we've seen of Costa Rica during our scouting.

"They play with a European style, so I expected this [performance against Uruguay]. But all of our players know what to do and that it will be a difficult game.

"Costa Rica are a complete team and we can't have just have one tactic against them."

Prandelli's trepidation is understandable. Not only did Costa Rica prove themselves a formidable counterattacking side, Italy have previous when it comes to underestimating less fashionable opponents.

After all, they entered the 2010 World Cup as proud reigning champions; they exited a red-faced laughing stock, having finished bottom of a group containing Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. The 1-1 draw with the All Whites was a particular lowlight, the Azzurri only spared an embarrassing defeat by a penalty equaliser from Vincenzo Iaquinta.

Italy have even come undone against supposedly weaker opposition on a couple of occasions on Prandelli's watch. There have been draws in competitive fixtures away to Northern Ireland and at home to Armenia, while they were also held 1-1 by Luxembourg in a warm-up game in Perugia at the start of the month.

Consequently, he has been impressing upon his players the perils of taking Costa Rica lightly. “In one sense, it's the most dangerous game in the group for us," he warned.

The message seems to have got through the players. "We will have to give 100 per cent, maybe even more,” midfielder Thiago Motta stated earlier this week. “We will treat it as a final."

Daniele De Rossi, meanwhile, described Costa Rica’s win over Uruguay as an “alarm bell”.

"We should fear them a bit," the Roma ace argued. "You need a healthy fear against a team that surprised everyone with their victory over Uruguay. Nobody thought they would get such a clear result against a very strong side.

"They'll be fired up after that win. If they had lost 4-0 then we could've underestimated them, but in this case we cannot possibly do that.”

Indeed, Italy have been warned. They know full well what awaits them in Recife. They know what to expect from Costa Rica. They know what to expect from the conditions. Win, lose or draw, they're going to suffer again.

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