RECIFE, Brazil (AP) — Had Costa Rica been a less resilient team, it might still be stewing over referee Enrique Osses’ refusal to award a penalty when explosive striker Joel Campbell was taken down in the area.
Instead, the Ticos mounted another of their numerous raids on Italy’s defense, scoring a minute later when Bryan Ruiz headed home Junior Diaz’s long, curling cross from the left wing.
Playing with confidence and attacking relentlessly, Costa Rica seized control of Group D and clinched a place in the knockout round of the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over four-time champion Italy that might have been more lopsided if not for goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Entering the tournament as the second-place team in CONCACAF qualifying, behind the United States, the Costa Ricans were apparently the weakest team in a group featuring former World Cup champions Italy, Uruguay and England.
Not anymore. They’ve already advanced to the second round for the first time since 1990 and can win the group with a draw or better against England, which was knocked out of contention with Friday’s result.
“Today is a very special moment for us,” Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said. “We knew that today we could make history for Costa Rica and we’ve been able to do so.”
Costa Rica entered its match against the Azzurri exuding confidence after opening Group D with a surprising 3-1 comeback victory over Uruguay, a semifinalist in 2010.
But Uruguay striker Luis Suarez, who nearly led Liverpool to an English Premier League title this past season, missed that game and there were some questions about how Costa Rica would handle one of the traditional powers at full strength.
By the time Osses’ whistle sounded the end of the match, Costa Rica had matched Italy in shots with 10 and shots on goal with six, despite having only 42 percent of possession.
A minute before Ruiz’s goal, Campbell swooped on a back pass that had been misplayed by Giorgio Chiellini and charged into the area, where he was bundled over by the veteran Italian defender.
There was no penalty forthcoming, but while coach Pinto was screaming and waving his arms in apparent disgust, the Ticos regrouped and mounted their decisive attack.
“Of course, we want to go farther in this competition,” Pinto said. “I’ve told my team. We have to keep calm. We’re here and we want to stay. It’s not going to be easy. A World Cup is never easy.”
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