Costa Rica upsets Uruguay
England knew surviving a group with two other former World Cup champions would be tough, but the team never expected to be trailing Costa Rica after the opening games.
The small Central American nation with a minor World Cup pedigree came from behind to shock 2010 semifinalist Uruguay 3-1. Then Mario Balotelli -- who else? -- scored the decider for Italy in a 2-1 win over England.
If anything, it showed the value of special players at the World Cup. While Italy thrived with Balotelli on the pitch, Uruguay suffered with Luis Suarez sitting on the bench with a bad knee.
Uruguay was powerless for the last hour of the match against an underdog without marquee players, but with no fear of playing against traditional powers.
"What we take into the next games is confidence," said Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto.
For a third straight day, the World Cup in Brazil lived up to its samba billing as goals kept pouring in, with Colombia punishing Greece 3-0. Ivory Coast scored twice in two minutes for a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Japan to grab a share of the lead in Group C.
The leaden Amazon 30C (86F) heat in Manaus was supposed to stifle play, but Italy and England produced a display of attacking and tactical football.
Wily Andrea Pirlo, at 35, set up the first goal with a deft stepover to give Claudio Marchisio room for a long-range shot. In injury time, when players much younger than him had already come down with cramps, Pirlo sent a swerving free kick that hit the bar.
Balotelli undid the equalizer from Daniel Sturridge with a 50th minute header. Earlier, he almost scored from an extreme angle, getting the ball past goalie Joe Hart only to see Phil Jagielka head it off the line.
"We take our hats off to their skill," England coach Roy Hodgson said.
Italy now faces Costa Rica in its next match with another victory likely assuring it progress into the second round.
"We won but now let’s keep our feet on the ground otherwise we’re not going anywhere," said Balotelli.
After the Netherlands spectacular 5-1 rout of defending champion Spain on Friday, it was another day of football at its best.
Teams from the Americas were 5-1 after the first three days of action, with victories by Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica and Mexico. Uruguay’s loss to Costa Rica is the only defeat for a team from this side of the globe.
Even though Costa Rica had looked strong in qualifying, few expected a victory over Uruguay, especially after Edinson Cavani scored the opening penalty.
Costa Rica then conjured up the spirit of 1990, when it upset Sweden and Scotland to reach the second round in its first World Cup.
Striker Joel Campbell tied the game in the 54th and Oscar Duarte scored on a diving header just three minutes later. Substitute Marcos Urena added the third with six minutes left.
"We spotted that they had weaknesses and we looked at those. We worked hard on headers and ways to dominate in the air and we did that tonight," Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said.
Diego Forlan won the Golden Ball as best player four years ago, but at 35, he was a shadow of his former self and was replaced as Uruguay went looking for a way back into the game. But no one could step up to take over from the injured Suarez.
Ivory Coast also had a hurting star. But when the African nation was down 1-0 against Japan, Didier Drogba, 36, came off the bench and inspired an immediate turnaround. Defender Serge Aurier twice made curling crosses to set up Wilfried Bony and Gervinho for scores.
Compare that to Colombia, which showed off its new generation to the world, when all thought the nation would fizzle after its great star Radamel Falcao had to withdraw from the World Cup with an injured knee.
With Falcao in the stands, Colombians were cheering 22-year-old playmaker James Rodriguez, handily called "El Nuevo Pibe," or the "New Kid." Rodriguez led his team and scored Colombia’s third goal, sealing his nation’s first World Cup victory in 16 years.
France 3, Honduras 0
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- Karim Benzema scored twice and created a third that was confirmed by goal-line technology as France beat Honduras 3-0 Sunday in its first World Cup match.
The dominant win was a relief for France, whose team of highly paid players failed to win in South Africa and was sent home in a disgrace after going on a training strike.
"Winning 3-0 at a World Cup isn’t easy," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "(The players should) savor the moment, there’s nothing more wonderful."
France dominated the match from the opening whistle, despite a series of scrappy tackles by the Honduran team seeking its first World Cup win.
Benzema’s first goal came from the penalty spot just before halftime after Wilson Palacios was sent off with his second yellow card for charging into the back of Paul Pogba. The Real Madrid striker calmly slotted the ball to the left of Noel Valladares to give Les Bleus a deserved lead going into the break.
With Honduras down to 10 men, France continued to dominate and Benzema created the second goal in the 48th minute -- the first to be confirmed by goal-line technology at the World Cup.
Benzema latched onto a long ball by Yohan Cabaye and his shot hit the post and came back across goal before Valladares fumbled it over his own line. With the new technology system confirming the ball crossed the line, referee Sandro Ricci gave the own goal despite Honduran protests.
Benzema scored his second in the 72nd, firing in powerfully from inside the area after a long range shot by right back Mathieu Debuchy was blocked.
"It’s my first World Cup and I think we’re all satisfied with the result," Benzema said. "It was important to win this match."
French keeper Hugo Lloris didn’t have to touch the ball until the 31 minute and didn’t have to make a save all night.
France looked dangerous from the start, with Blaise Matuidi and Antoine Griezmann both hitting the crossbar before the half-hour mark.
The only downside for the French fans was that the teams’ national anthems weren’t played before the game because of an apparent malfunction -- meaning they didn’t get a chance to sing "La Marseillaise." FIFA did not immediately give an explanation to why the anthems weren’t played.
Switzerland 2, Ecuador
BRASILIA, Brazil -- Switzerland grabbed a winner with virtually the final kick to earn a 2-1 victory over Ecuador in the World Cup on Sunday, extending a run of come-from-behind wins that are becoming a theme of the tournament.
With just seconds left in the third and final minute of stoppage time, substitute Haris Seferovic finished off a length-of-the-field move by slamming home a close-range shot. After wild Swiss celebrations, Ecuador’s shell-shocked players barely had time to restart before the final whistle was blown.
It was the fifth time in the first nine matches in Brazil that a team had come from a goal down to win -- but this was the most dramatic of all the comebacks.
"It was a dream to be able to win this match in the very last minute like this," Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said through a translator. "It was emotional -- it will be important for the morale of the team."
Sluggish in the first half-hour, Switzerland -- highly fancied after rising to No. 6 in the FIFA rankings -- conceded a sloppy goal to go behind when Enner Valencia rose unmarked in the 22nd minute and headed in a free kick from six yards (meters).
Ecuador’s defending for the 48th-minute equalizer was just as abject, however, with Admir Mehmedi finding space from even closer in to nod in a corner.
With Mehmedi and Seferovic both second-half substitutes, it was no wonder that the wily Hitzfeld -- a veteran coach with two Champions League titles on his resume -- had a huge grin on his face at the final whistle.
Not so his counterpart.
"We were naive and that cost us the game," Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rieda said. "(The loss) is more our fault. We were not beaten by our opponent."
After being among the bores of the last two World Cups, it was expected to be all change for Switzerland with Hitzfeld putting his faith in a young, dynamic class of 2014 that had come up together through the national youth ranks.
But nerves ensured they started the World Cup poorly, misplacing simple passes and overhitting crosses in a drab first half. The second half wasn’t much better either -- but Seferovic rescued them, having only come on in the 75th minute for the ineffective Josip Drmic.
The Real Sociedad forward scored a 90th-minute winner against Cyprus in June in Switzerland’s unbeaten run through qualifying but he has lost his place to the emerging Drmic.
"Haris is a striker through and through," Hitzfeld said. "What he lacked was practice in terms of playing time at Real Sociedad. In the tournament build-up, he performed excellently but he still needs time to develop."
Seferovic scored the crucial goal, but teammate Valon Behrami deserves just as much credit.
It was the central midfielder who produced a perfectly timed tackle in his own box and then embarked on a lung-bursting run up the field in the lead-up to the winning goal. At one stage, he was hacked down near the center circle but he got up and carried on his run, with the referee playing an excellent advantage.
The ball was fed to the left, where left back Ricardo Rodriguez -- who set up Mehmedi for the equalizer -- slid a low cross for Seferovic to crash a finish high in to the net.
Cue Switzerland’s entire bench spilling into the pitch to celebrate with Seferovic, with some players choosing to mob Behrami.
"It was a great feeling," Behrami said. "Those 30 seconds were amazing for us."
FIFA President Sepp Blatter was present -- and was booed by sections of the crowd -- for what was probably the poorest game at this World Cup in terms of quality. Thousands of fans missed the first part of the match because of long queues to pass through security.
It meant there were still plenty of empty seats when Valencia stole a yard on Johan Djourou and guided a simple header into the net from Walter Ayovi’s free kick, with Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio left completely stranded.
It was one of the few clear-cut chances created by Ecuador, which is now on the back foot in a Group E also containing France and Honduras.
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