Italy vs Costa Rica World Cup 2014: Mario Balotelli too hot to worry about Costa Rica’s tactics

Also, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon expected to return in goal against Costa Rica

Recife

The wonderful thing about Mario Balotelli is that he never follows a script, not even when it has been written by the man sitting next to him.

As he delivered his pre-match press conference inside the glittering silver structure of the Arena Pernambuco, the Italy manager, Cesare Prandelli, was saying all the usual things. He remarked how tenacious Costa Rica had been to pull off their stunning victory over Uruguay. “We have studied this squad a lot,” he went on.

At this point, Balotelli was asked what he had learnt from studying videos of Costa Rica. The man who decided the encounter with England in Manaus admitted that while he had certainly watched the videos, he could not actually remember very much about them.

Read more: Balotelli demands kiss from the Queen if Italy help England
How England can still qualify
Match report: England 1 Uruguay 2

Balotelli, the man his manager said “could take Italy to the moon”, is not someone who would change his game, no matter how many films he watched. He plays and lives purely by instinct.

The Milan striker appears a calmer and more relaxed figure than he has been recently – the only Balotelli story to have appeared from the Italian training camp has been of him filling the Italy page in his World Cup stickers book with pictures of himself. “I am approaching this competition with a great peace of mind,” he said. “I don’t feel any pressure because it is not Mario’s World Cup, it is Italy’s World Cup.”

And it is going better than many dared hope. If you had had to pick any of the big European sides to crash and burn in Brazil, it would not have been Spain, this century’s most successful team, but Italy.

They had defended the World Cup won in Berlin abysmally in South Africa. They had won none of their warm-up matches and lost one of their finest midfielders, Riccardo Montolivo, to a broken leg.

Read more: Italy vs Costa Rica match preview

When they arrived in Rio de Janeiro, they managed to concede three goals to Fluminense, who had almost got themselves relegated, and then lost their captain, Gianluigi Buffon and, because of an injury to Mattia de Sciglio, were forced into employing their third-choice goalkeeper against England. They were not even able to field a specialist left-back.

Prandelli, described what followed as “an epic”. The goals from Claudio Marchisio and Balotelli were superbly worked and, in his final tournament for his beloved Azurri, Andrea Pirlo produced a masterful display.

Despite the suffocating heat in the Arena Amazonia, only Germany ran further than Italy’s collective 11km in their first fixture and their pass-rate completion of 93.2 per cent is the highest of the tournament. However, at the final whistle both Marchisio and Marco Verratti began hallucinating because of exhaustion.

Their focus will be much sharper now. Buffon, who at 36 can still claim to be the world’s best keeper – especially given the calamities that have befallen Spain’s Iker Casillas – is expected to return for his 141st cap.

Thiago Motta, whose decision to exchange Brazil for Italy looks more perceptive than Diego Costa’s to opt for Spain, could return to stiffen Prandelli’s midfield.

It seems straightforward but Recife means “reef” in Portuguese and Italy are perfectly capable of wrecking themselves on it. After their stunning second-half performance against Uruguay in Fortaleza, nobody is calling Costa Rica “minnows” but Italy’s record against unfancied teams in World Cups is on a par with England’s.

The rotten tomatoes that greeted their return from the 1966 tournament after being eliminated by North Korea are still metaphorically fresh and it was New Zealand who ended their hold on the World Cup four years ago. And Costa Rica are rather better than New Zealand.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map