World Cup Roundup: Cinderella storyCosta Rica advances to Round of 16; France puts on offensive show
The Ticos orchestrated their second massive upset in as many matches, stunning Italy in Recife on Friday, 1-0. Bryan Ruiz's brilliant header just a minute before halftime was all the Central American side needed.
After stunning Uruguay in their opener, Costa Rica came out sharp. They had multiple chances in the opening 10 minutes and pressured the Italians throughout the half. Keeper Gianluigi Buffon was tested and his defense was on its heels.
The Ticos appeared to draw a penalty just minutes from the break when Joel Campbell was brought down in the box, but appeals for a spot-kick were denied.
Dismay over the no-call turned to joy in the 44th minute. Junior Diaz played the ball on the left flank and sent a high cross to the right side of the box. Ruiz leapt in the air and headed the ball off the underside of the crossbar and in. Goal-line technology confirmed the score and sent the Costa Ricans into pandemonium.
In the second half, Italy chased an equalizer with numerous forays, but many attacks were bogged down by offside positioning and poor passing. When Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas was pressed into service, he was up to the task.
Costa Rica is in great position to win Group D. Their final group-stage match is against England, who was eliminated by Friday's result in Recife.
Second place in the table is up for grabs in the finale between Italy and Uruguay. The Italians need just a draw to reach the Round of 16. Uruguay must win to advance.
In other Friday action…
France 5, Switzerland 2: France scored early, often and with ease in a rout of Switzerland in Salvador to all but secure a spot in the knockout rounds.
Five different players, beginning with Olivier Giroud, found the back of the net. The Arsenal star headed in from close range in the 17th minute. On the ensuing restart, a Switzerland turnover sent Karim Benzema on the break. He fed Blaise Matuidi for a short-side finish and a quick two-goal lead.
Mathieu Valbuena (40th minute), Benzema (67th) and Moussa Sissoko (73rd) added tallies for Les Bleus. Benzema's goal was a bit of redemption after the Real Madrid forward was stopped on a first-half penalty.
The Swiss got two goals back in the final 15 minutes, with Blerim Dzemaili scoring on a free kick and Granit Xhaka finishing off a pretty volley. But it was merely consolation for the seeded side, which had no answer for France's pressure. Keeper Diego Benaglio made a handful of saves to prevent the final deficit from reaching five or six.
Ecuador 2, Honduras 1: Enner Valencia scored in each half to defeat Honduras and keep Ecuador's World Cup hopes alive.
The Hondurans took the lead in the 31st minute through Carlo Costly, but the advantage was short-lived. Three minutes later, Valencia tallied the equalizer to level the score before halftime. The Ecuadorian forward sent his side ahead for good in the 64th minute with a header.
Valencia has scored all three of Ecuador's goals in this World Cup.
Group E remains wide open, with all four teams capable of advancing. A pair of draws will see France and Ecuador move on. Switzerland likely needs at least one point to reach the Round of 16. Honduras must win and get a lot of help to keep going in Brazil.
A look ahead to Saturday's matches…
Noon, Argentina vs. Iran: The pieces are in place for a major blowout in Saturday's first match. Argentina looked sharp in its Group F opener, with Lionel Messi scoring a world-class goal. Iran, on the other hand, salvaged a draw despite losing the possession battle nearly 2-to-1.The Argentines have too much talent up and down the roster and should walk away with three points and a place in the knockout rounds.
3 p.m., Germany vs. Ghana: The Group of Death looks like Germany's to lose after the favorites thrashed Portugal in their opener. They were clinical in the victory, scoring four times and never letting an offensive-minded Portuguese side truly threaten. To boot, the Germans escaped unscathed on the injury front. Ghana almost certainly needs a result after failing to secure a point against the United States, but doing so against a stronger, better German side is a difficult proposition.
6 p.m., Nigeria vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Group F's second match of the day also has the makings of a one-sided affair. World Cup debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina lost their opener against one of the tournament's giants; now, they should thrive against one of the minnows. Edin Dzeko, who had one shot against Argentina, should find time and space Saturday. The European side's defense should have no trouble stopping Nigeria, either.