Sunday, Nov 23, 2014

FIFA World Cup: The heat is on

Italy striker Mario Balotelli interacts with fans during the practice session. Italy will have one foot in the second stage if they win. (Source: AP) Italy striker Mario Balotelli interacts with fans during the practice session. Italy will have one foot in the second stage if they win. (Source: AP)
Agence-France Presse | Natal | Posted: June 20, 2014 12:56 am | Updated: June 20, 2014 11:25 am

Italy look to reach the World Cup last 16 with victory over giant-killers Costa Rica on Friday but the four-time champions are wary of Recife’s tropical conditions. Tough-tackling Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi has underlined Costa Rica’s likely advantage in the sweltering conditions in Recife, where he said Italy were “dying from the heat” last year during the Confederations Cup.

Having made a blistering start to what is only their fourth WC campaign with a shock 3-1 win over Uruguay, the ‘Ticos’ would be forgiven for keeping the pace high from kick-off as they go in search of another upset.

“Italy have great players like Balotelli and Pirlo, and we have a lot of respect for them,” said FC Copenhagen midfielder Christian Bolanos. Italy launched their bid for a record-equalling fifth title with a crucial 2-1 win over England in Manaus last week in their Group D opener. But the four-time champions were given notice following Costa Rica’s shock win over 2010 semi-finalists Uruguay that a match they would have been widely expected to dominate may be more difficult than first imagined. “They’ll be fired up after their win,” said De Rossi. “If they had lost 4-0 then we might have underestimated them, but now there’s no chance of that.”

A second win for Italy would provide a huge boost ahead of their final group clash against Uruguay, but coach Cesare Prandelli faces selection dilemmas.

AC Milan’s Matteo De Sciglio, who normally plays at right-back, is not expected to recover in time from a thigh knock, while Andrea Barzagli and central defensive partner Gabriel Paletta, who failed to convince against England, could both start on the bench.

Left-sided defender Giorgio Chiellini was tested by the pace of England’s Raheem Sterling, so Prandelli must now decide how to reshuffle for a Costa Rican side that did plenty of damage down the right against Uruguay thanks to the pace of Fulham forward Bryan Ruiz.

As was widely expected against England, Pirlo orchestrated much of Italy’s forward play although reports suggest midfield partner Marco Verratti could make way for Paris Saint Germain club-mate Thiago Motta.

Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio, who scored Italy’s opener in Manaus, is expected to retain his place just behind lone striker Balotelli, who sealed the Azzurri’s opening win thanks to a 50th minute header. Doubts also remain on goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was sidelined for the England match due to an ankle injury which pushed Salvatore Sirigu into the spotlight. Costa Rica midfielder Jose Miguel Cubero said his team have no intention of playing for a draw.

“When you play for a draw in football, you usually end up losing. We’re going for the win against Italy,” continued…

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