Costa Rica stun Italy, dump England out of WC

LONDON - Costa Rica saved the Queen. But there was no saving England. The end of Roy Hodgson’s team World Cup dream has been confirmed.

England needed Italy to win here in order to cling to the most slender of lifelines, yet the hope was snuffed out by Costa Rica, the tournament’s most romantic surprise. The only consolation was for Her Majesty. Mario Balotelli had demanded a kiss from her if Italy triumphed.

Costa Rica have qualified from the Group of Death that was supposed to eat them alive, and nobody can say that they do not deserve it. After last Saturday’s 3-1 win over Uruguay, they went toe to toe with the four-times world champions and they were the better team.

They shrugged off the harsh decision not to award them a 43rd-minute penalty for a barge by Giorgio Chiellini on Joel Campbell to strike the decisive blow through the captain Bryan Ruiz. The Fulham forward, who spent the second half of last season on loan at PSV Eindhoven, can cherish one of the goals of his life.

Fulham will begin next season in the Championship after their relegation but Ruiz can look ahead to a World Cup knock-out tie.

The Costa Rican celebrations at full-time were frenzied. They have laughed in the face of those that have belittled them.

Their final group tie against England will be a stress-free occasion. Italy have rather more to fight for.

Their fixture against Uruguay in Natal next Tuesday is now winner-takes-all. Italy do have the safety net of the draw.

But they will have to play a lot better than this. Apart from a gilt-edged Balotelli miss in the first half, they created little. It was Costa Rica’s cool passing, organisation and commitment that defined the occasion.

There has been a Latin American brotherhood of communal support during these finals, and most of the stadium here wanted Costa Rica to win.

But there was a corner of Europe that was draped in blue for 90 minutes. It is an indictment of England’s back-to-back Group D failures that it had come to this – praying for a favour from Italy.

Many England fans would gladly have allowed Balotelli to enjoy a bit of petting with Her Royal Highness in the event of his team doing the business.

It was desperation time. Not that Italy or Costa Rica cared about the consequences for Roy Hodgson, the players, Queen or country.

This was their opportunity to stride boldly towards the last 16.

After Balotelli had battled with Giancarlo González – a theme of the afternoon – the ball broke for the midfielder but he dragged harmlessly wide.

Costa Rica brought the game to life in the closing minutes of the first half, with the trigger being Óscar Duarte’s back header that looped just over.

Initially, there was the burning sense of injustice. After Chiellini’s miscontrol had allowed Campbell to burst clear, the Italy defender chased back to bundle him over. The Chilean referee, Enrique Osses, was the only person inside the stadium who did not think it was a penalty.

Moments later Costa Rica were in the lead. From Júnior Díaz’s left-wing cross, Bryan Ruiz got in between Chiellini and Matteo Darmian too easily to head home off the underside of the crossbar. Goal-line technology confirmed that the ball had bounced over the line. – The Guardian

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