You can forgive Azzurri fans for being a little overconfident going into Friday’s match with Costa Rica. With Italy vanquishing England in the first match and Uruguay getting thumped by the universally agreed worst team in the group, the road to the next round looks clear. Their fate is in their hands, and against a CONCACAF team that fate looks fairly good.
However, there were some warning signs during the first round of matches and after that should give over-confident Italian fans pause. While the win was impressive, it was not comprehensive and showed some frailties. Additionally, Costa Rica showed why they cannot be dismissed as an easy win (besides the scoreline).
Here are five reasons Italian fans should be concerned about their match with Costa Rica (and why Los Ticos fans should feel a little confident).
1. Injuries are hitting Italy at the wrong time
Gigi Buffon and Mattia De Sciglio are both still questionable for Friday’s game, which is a major concern. Buffon has “a specific trauma, which is not your usual sprained ankle”, according to the Italian team doctor (via The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/jun/16/world-cup-2014-italy-gianluigi-buffon) and De Sciglio missed the first match with a calf strain. Buffon’s replacement Salvatore Sirigu was good in net but is not Buffon, one of the world’s best keepers for years. De Sciglio may be the bigger concern, based on how the Italian defense played against England (see below). Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Barzagli are also training after suffering knocks. All are supposed to be available for Friday but there status (and anyone else with unknown knocks) is still unknown.
2. The temperatures favor Costa Rica
Friday’s game will be played at 1 PM local time with temperatures and humidity expected to be worse than the England match. In that game, Italy visibly wore down as the match went along. With even more humidity possible and the sun beating down on them (if it is not pouring), Costa Rica has an advantage being used to playing in similar weather. Italy is so concerned that the team medic has said in the media that FIFA needs to mandate a water break.
3.The Italian defense was suspect especially down the wings
As expected the Italian defense was the weakness in this match for the Azzurri. While it held England to a single goal and marked some key players like Wayne Rooney out of the match, there were moments of panic. If De Sciglio is again unavailable, Cesare Prandelli may be faced with playing fullbacks that are a step slow (Chiellini) and more offense-minded (Matteo Darmian)
4. Joel Campbell has the skills to trouble the backline
While he is still young, Campbell showed in his last match that he has an incredible future ahead of him. He’s quick and has an eye for goal. His pace is similar to that of Daniel Sturridge so if he can get the ball the Italian defense may have its hands full trying to contain him.
5. The World Cup so far has been kind to underdogs