Costa Rica, France book spots in World Cup knockout stage

Fitzgerald Cecilio – 4E Sports Reporter

Recife, Brazil (4E Sports) – Bryan Ruiz scored the game’s lone goal as Costa Rica booked a place in the knockout stage with a 1-0 win over Italy in their Group D showdown Friday at Arena Pernambuco.

France also claimed a place in the knockout stage with a 5-2 win over Switzerland in their Group E clash at Arena Fonte Nova.

Ruiz’s header in the 44th minute helped Costa Rica book a spot in the next round with a game to spare and ensured England’s early vacation from the tournament. This marked the second time that Costa Rica progressed to the knockout phase.

Costa Rica can secure first place in the group by getting at least a tie against England at the Estadio Mineirao Tuesday.

With the loss, Italy will face Uruguay Tuesday at the Estadio das Dunas to determine the other qualifier from Group D.

Costa Rica started brightly and came close after just six minutes when defender Celso Borges headed narrowly over the crossbar from a corner.

However, despite enjoying the better of the opening exchanges, the Costa Ricans were unable to really test goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was restored to the starting lineup after missing the 2-1 win over England due to an ankle injury.

Italy, for its part, struggled to create any scoring opportunities early in the match but striker Mario Balotelli almost gave Azzurri the lead on the half-hour mark but his attempt went wide.

Balotelli showed greater composure when handed another opportunity just two minutes later, but the Milan talisman’s volley was kept out by a strong Keylor Navas save.

Costa Rica forced Buffon into action for the first time as the Juventus shot-stopper prevented midfielder Christian Bolanos’ curler from finding the bottom corner.

In the 43rd minute, Costa Rica was denied what appeared to be a stonewall penalty in the 43rd minute when Giorgio Chiellini impeded Joel Campbell in the box, but referee Enrique Osses waved play on.

However, justice was served a minute later as Ruiz met Junior Diaz’s magnificent left-wing cross with an excellent far-post header that cannoned off the underside of the bar and over the line.

Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi, Mathieu Valbuena, Karim Benzema, Moussa Sissoko scored for the French, who have six points from two wins.

Switzerland avoided a shutout with late goals from Granit Xhaka and Blerim Dzemaili.

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