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.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'