Italy 0-1 Costa Rica
20 June 2014
Arena Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil
World Cup Group D
Scorer: Ruiz

Costa Rica successfully defended the UFWC title with this impressive victory over Italy. Temperatures hit the high 20s celsius during what was a 1pm kick-off at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, in the north-east of Brazil. Italy boss Cesare Prandelli had called ahead of the game for water breaks, and without them his team visibly wilted in the heat.

Unsurprisingly, Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto went with the same team that had taken the UFWC title from Uruguay in a 3-1 win on Saturday, playing a 5-4-1 formation, with Joel Campbell as a lone striker. 21-year-old Campbell is an Arsenal player, although he hasn’t actually turned out for the Gunners. Initially unable to play in England due to work permit problems, he spent last season on loan at Olympiacos.

Italy lined up with the duo that did most of the damage in the 2-1 defeat of England 2-1 in their previous game – bearded playmaker Andrea Pirlo and unpredictable striker Mario Balotelli – and brought back veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon following injury.

Costa Rica had the best of the opening exchanges, and came close to scoring after just five minutes, with Celso Borges heading over the bar. Buffon was tested several times in a busy first half, looking a little rusty in his fourth World Cup finals.

Balotelli had Italy’s best chances of the first 45 minutes, and really should have scored. First he was on the end of a brilliant Pirlo through ball, and tried to lob Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas only to mis-kick the ball wide of the goal. Two minutes later, Balotelli was on target with a volley, but drove it straight at Navas.

As half-time approached, Costa Rica increased their pressure on the Italy goal, and should have had a penalty when Campbell raced into the box and was barged over by Giorgio Chiellini. Within 60 seconds, though, they got the goal they deserved, when captain Bryan Ruiz rose at the back post to head the ball onto the crossbar and over the line.

Italy started the second half in a more urgent manner, but were kept at bay by the hurrying and harrying Costa Ricans. As the game progressed, the Italians visibly tired, and seemed unable to shift into top gear. Costa Rica were able to hold on to their win in more comfortable a manner than the scoreline might suggest.

This was Costa Rica’s seventh UFWC title match win, pushing them into the top 25 nations in the all-time rankings. The win also ensured Costa Rica’s progress to the World Cup knock-out round of 16. It also meant elimination for England, who now cannot qualify from Group D. Ironically, however, although England cannot become official champions, they will get a shot at becoming unofficial champions.

The next UFWC title match is Costa Rica versus England on Tuesday, 24 June. England have won 73 UFWC title matches in history, but none since Euro 2000. The last time they played a UFWC match at Belo Horizonte, the result was one of the most famous English defeats of all time.

If Costa Rica win or draw, they will retain the UFWC title, and take it into the knock-out stages. That means the title will be in play all the way through to the World Cup Final. If England win, they will become Unofficial Football World Champions and take the UFWC title home with them, as the World Cup continues without them.

We’ll have full coverage of the match right here. Keep right up to date by following us on on Twitter or Facebook.

You can find out everything you need to know about the UFWC in our official handbook, Unofficial Football World Champions, which contains a complete history of the unofficial competition. The 2014 edition, updated for the World Cup, is out now.

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About Paul Brown

Paul is a freelance journalist and author. He created the UFWC in 2003, and subsequently wrote the Unofficial Football World Champions book. He can be found on Twitter @paulbrownUK.