Can Italy Avoid Being the Third Powerhouse Not to Escape the Group Stage?
Let’s pretend for a moment that you didn’t know the end result of the match between Costa Rica and Italy beforehand. If I told you that Italy won the possession battle (58% to Costa Rica’s 42%), completed 89% of their passes, and were fouled a whopping 23 times by their opponent, you probably would’ve assumed that Italy came away with three points, right?
Unfortunately for Italy, the only number that really matters is the score. And, thanks to a brilliant header by Bryan Ruiz in the 44th minute, one goal is all that upstart Costa Rica would need to put away the Italians.
The match for Italy can be summed up in four words: impatience, frustration, and missed opportunities.
Impatience because the high line played by the Costa Rican defenders caused Italy to drift offsides an almost unheard of 11 times. An offside trap that Italy never quite figured out.
Frustration because Italy, though they did control possession, was never allowed much in Costa Rica’s half of the field. Only allowing four shots on goal, Costa Rica did a fantastic job of closing down Andrea Pirlo, as the architect of Italy’s attack was not able to play in the advanced role he enjoyed in the previous match against England.
And lastly, missed opportunities because even with only four shots on goal the team had two glaring chances, both by Balotelli, that should’ve resulted in the ball hitting the back of the net.
The loss now sets up a crucial tilt with Uruguay, one in which the “Azzurri” must at lest secure a result in (win or draw). And, looking at our metrics, it doesn’t appear as if the odds are in their favor. Allow me to explain.
For starters, Uruguay has the upper hand in the nERD department (expected goal difference against an average international team) with a 2.37, compared to a 2.06 for Italy. Additionally, our Game Simulator gives Uruguay a 44.97% chance of winning, while it only gives Italy a 23.35% chance.
Uruguay, fresh off their victory over England, will be looking to use their attacking style of play to counter the more defensive and possession-dependent Italian side. All-world striker, Luis Suárez, returned to the side after sitting out the team’s first game (also a loss to Costa Rica) as a precaution after having knee surgery not a month before the tournament. And it was his presence that made the difference against England, as he bagged both goals to sink the “Three Lions”. Containing Suárez will be priority number one for Italy.
If there is a ray of sunshine statistically for Italy, it comes in the form of a 31.68% chance the match ends in a draw according to the Game Simulator. Which, due to a goal difference advantage, would be enough to see the team through to the Round of 16.
For Italy, it will need to be business as usual if they’re to secure a result; defense will be paramount as they’ll face one of the most lethal strikers in the world, but they must also limit his time on the ball and to do so they’ll need to win the possession battle as well. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Pirlo will obviously be the most important player on the pitch for Italy. If he’s given free roam of the midfield, he should have no trouble keeping his team on schedule as well as finding passing lanes into Balotelli, and the two should be able to exploit a Uruguayan defense that’s leaked four goals thus far.
The numbers favor the lighter shade of blue in this contest, but if we’ve learned anything from what we’ve seen so far in this World Cup, it’s to take everything you think you know about this game and throw it out the window.