RECIFE, Brazil – Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said the sky’s the limit after the Central Americans claimed their second major scalp of the World Cup on Friday to secure their place in the last 16 for only the second time.
Costa Rica, whose only previous last 16 appearance was in 1990, are ranked only 28th in the world, 19 places behind Italy and 21 places behind Uruguay.
But less than a week after a 3-1 come-from-behind win over Uruguay, Pinto’s team added another touch of magic to their impressive campaign so far with a deserved 1-0 win over four-time champions Italy.
“We’re delighted with the win, which has put us into the second round, but we don’t want to stop there. It’s only the start,” said Pinto, a 61-year-old Colombian known for winning league titles in Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica and Venezuela.
“It’s not easy to play against a team like Italy, given their history and the individual talents they have.
“We tried to contain their play by restricting [midfielder] Andrea Pirlo. But we were also solid in defense.”
Costa Rica restricted Italy to only two real goal chances in the first half, both coming from striker Mario Balotelli following deliveries by Pirlo, before claiming a deserved 1-0 win thanks to Bryan Ruiz’s header.
Two minutes after seeing claims for a cast iron penalty waved away following Giorgio Chiellini’s charge on forward Joel Campbell, the Central Americans stunned their opponents on the stroke of half-time.
Gianluigi Buffon, who sat out the England win due to an ankle knock, failed to come for a Junior Diaz cross to the far post and Fulham forward Bryan Ruiz produced a superb header, which beat the 2006 World Cup winning goalkeeper.
“It came just at the right moment,” said Pinto.
“It was an epic win, but we believed we could do it,” said 28-year-old PSV Eindhoven striker Ruiz.
“Since beating Uruguay we’ve been super confident. But beating Italy is even more special.
“I don’t think we’ve properly realised the importance of what we have achieved so far.”
Costa Rica’s win meant Group D rivals England crashed out.