Group of Death lives up to its billing, claims Italy after England

  • AP, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
  • Updated: Jun 25, 2014 05:29 IST

The beach ball being thrown around the stand by bored, cheering fans captured just how serene Costa Rica's progress has been at the World Cup.

It should never have been this easy for the only team in Group D which isn't a past World Cup winner and doesn't feature in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings.

But history and status proved no hindrance for the central American minnows, who turned the group on its head by progressing as winners.

With qualification to the round of 16 already secured with victories over Uruguay and Italy, the pressure was off the Los Ticos, who held another former champion, England, 0-0 to secure top spot on Tuesday.

England and Italy are taking early flights home from Brazil, not the less illustrious footballing nation.

"We are really happy because this was called the Group of Death," Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said through a translator after the 0-0 draw.

"We always thought we would win, everybody who comes to play at a World Cup thinks they are going to win. The other teams were really difficult but we came with victory in mind."

Performances belied Costa Rica's position at 28 in the rankings, just below Scotland, which hasn't qualified for the World Cup since 1998.

After opening in Brazil with a 3-1 win over 2010 semi-finalist Uruguay, the defensively-solid Costa Rica overcame 2006 champion Italy 1-0.

"Some people didn't believe this was possible," Pinto said. "Our team has proved we can play good football. It makes me feel proud and our players deserve recognition. We will keep this style and philosophy so people don't say this is just luck."

For the 61-year-old Pinto, who progressed in coaching without a playing career, this is the fulfillment of a life's work, upsetting the odds with a team from a country with a population of less than five million.

"I always dreamt of playing at a World Cup," the Colombian coach of the Los Ticos said.

Now, that dream is of more shocks and staying in Brazil even longer than expected.

Before tournament, Pinto lost his scouting reports on rivals England, Italy and Uruguay to theft
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto could be forgiven for thinking the World Cup gods were against him.

After failing to take the Central American side to the 2006 finals and then proving equally as unsuccessful with his native Colombia for the 2010 campaign, the 61-year-old had to deal with a theft before heading to Brazil.

In April, Pinto's notes for a book he was writing, his iPad, contact details and scouting reports on World Cup rivals England, Italy and Uruguay were all stolen from his car parked outside a restaurant in San Jose.

"They stole details of all my press conferences, my cellphone, cash, personal papers. They also took a book I have had for 20 years which contained the numbers of friends and people in football," said Pinto. "Now where am I going to get those numbers?" (AFP)

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