Italy’s World Cup performance is getting better with a win over England in the heat of Manaus and they are now set to make another impact with the return of influential captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The Juventus man was forced to be on bench after he fought 2-1 triumph over England with a sprained left ankle, but is now back with the team for training ahead of the Azzurri’s second group game against Costa Rica on Friday.
Buffon’s return to the lineup is likely to light up the team though replacement Salvatore Sirigu is good and holds good the decision by coach Cesare Prandelli’s lineup. The defense could see some rotation today and the former Argentina youth international Gabriel Paletta may go from the team.
Andrea Barzagli and his Juventus teammate Giorgio Chiellini should shift back into the middle of the defense, regardless, with either Mattia de Sciglio or Milan’s Iganzio Abate coming in at full-back.
Unlike against England, the Italian defense will be under pressure with Costa Rica, who are better off now than in the past. More than just beating 2010 semifinalists Uruguay in their opening game, CR finished second in Concacaf qualifying with deep-lying defense. Their genuine threat is the absence of injured striker Alvaro Saborio, goalscorer Joel Campbell’s pace, while there were also some notable performances down the flanks.
Costa Rica’s victory has opened up a new team on top two places between the group’s former World Cup winners and Italy. Today’s match will take place in the peak early afternoon heat of Recife, and the weather condition is familiar to Costa Rica’s players than Italy’s.
“Last year we played Japan in Recife at 9 p.m. and we were dying,” midfielder Daniele de Rossi told AP and recollecting how Italy struggled to overturn a two-goal deficit and beat Japan 4-3 in a wild Confederations Cup match. “They are more accustomed to this climate but I think both squads would accept time outs.”
It will be the second of 3 games for Italy to play in the heat of Brazil, far away from the team’s base on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Otherwise, Italy have the vital experience of the Confederations Cup and they are perhaps best equipped with the nous to handle the situation. Italy managed the game against England impressively as the match would have gone either way.
Prandelli’s rotation of his team with Thiago Motta replacing Marco Verratti may help navigate their opponents. Otherwise, there is every reason to think that Italy can get a win in Recife and reach within the top teams club or the last-16 with a game to spare.
More than Uruguay, for Costa Rica facing Italy is a bigger threat. Costa Rica’s three center-backs will be given plenty to think about by just having one player up against them in Mario Balotelli.
Unlike Uruguay’s simple 4-4-2, Italy will pack the midfield and have a clear numerical advantage against Costa Rica’s 5-4-1 to dominate the pitch, while it would be difficult for Costa Rica to keep tight on Andrea Pirlo, giving him a chance to control the play. The greater control is also likely to prevent Costa Rica from getting their wide defenders forward thus cutting off a key attacking avenue.
Expect Italy to attempt to get the goals needed early on in order that they can repeat similar strategy they had employed against England.
Prediction: Italy 2-0 Costa Rica
Betting odds (bovada.lv)
Italy win: 1/2
Costa Rica win: 11/2
When and where: The 2014 World Cup Group D match will kick off from the Arena Pernambuco in Recife at noon ET.