In arguments about whether Group D or Group G was the true Group of Death, the answer mostly rested on how you thought about Costa Rica vs. the US. Italy, Uruguay, and England were probably a stronger top three than Germany, Portugal, and Ghana, but the thinking went that the US had a better shot to make the Round of 16 than Costa Rica. But after today's win over Italy, Costa Rica are through to the next round and lead Group D. This tournament is amazing.
After taking out Uruguay to start their World Cup experience, Costa Rica picked up right where they left off against Italy. And for the second game in a row facing heavily favored opponents, Costa Rica were in no way overmatched. Costa Rica to 11 shots to Italy's 10, got five of them on target to their opponent's four, and generally looked the more dangerous team for much of the day.
Whiplash counters by Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz were plentiful, especially since an unusually quiet Andrea Pirlo couldn't control the game like he normally does. Against England, Pirlo dominated play, attempting 108 passes and connecting on 16 of 21 passes in the attacking third. Today, while getting immediately closed down whenever he touched the ball, he only tried 87 passes, and, more tellingly, only 8 in the attacking third. Italy are at their best when Pirlo has time and space on the ball to dissect the opposition's defense, and today he was afforded neither.
Costa Rica's goal was surprisingly simple. Wing back Júnior Díaz came down the left, not really facing too much pressure, but then again not standing in the most dangerous of positions either. From wide and high on the wing, he curled in a perfect cross which found the forehead of an onrushing Bryan Ruiz, whose shot ricocheted off the crossbar and just crossed the goal line. (Thanks again, goal-line technology!) Its ease was probably assisted by the Soccer Gods as atonement for the referee ignoring Joel Campbell getting mauled in the box only minutes before. Karma is real, people.
Group D is now surprisingly clear. Costa Rica are through, England are out, and Uruguay will need to beat Italy or they're going home. The shock of this group isn't that there remain three teams vying for the top spot going into the decisive final matchday; it's that Costa Rica, the group's perceived patsies, sit in the catbird seat.