Qualification wasn’t meant to be this hard for Italy, the pre-tournament favourites to finish top of Group D. Now there’s a real possibility of them being knocked out. Both these teams were soundly beaten by sensational surprise package Costa Rica, leaving only one of them able to go through.
Italy’s performance against Los Ticos will have deeply worried their fans and their coach, Cesare Prandelli. At the end of a first half in which it looked inevitable that Mario Balotelli would sprint in behind the advanced Costa Rican back line and score, Italy fell behind. They had no fight in them after that, and no plan B. The longer the game went on, the less they looked like equalising, with those forward runs constantly, naggingly, bewilderingly halted by offside flags.
Either the Azzurri ran out of ideas – the calls from home are for internationally green but on-form Torino striker Ciro Immobile to start today – or it was the most extreme example yet of a good team wilting in the heat. If it was the latter, things won’t be any easier in Natal than they were in Recife, especially against opponents who have had a day’s extra rest.
Uruguay improved notably in their second match against England, having been totally outplayed by Costa Rica. Rooney and Gerrard were marked efficiently out of the game (they’ll have watched the tape of Costa Rica doing the same to Andrea Pirlo), some absentees in defence weren’t particularly missed, Luis Suarez returned to score two brilliant goals and, most pleasing of all, the old Uruguayan traits of fouls, playacting, gamesmanship and general villainy were back in force.
Uruguay really only have one way to score: give it to Edinson Cavani, who gives it to Suarez. Aside from that they’re a severely limited side, but that didn’t stop England losing to them. Italy need to find something.