The first team to qualify from Group D for the knockout stages is neither Italy, England, nor Uruguay: against all odds the first team through to the last 16 are Costa Rica.
The result came after a tough match for the Azzurri, who began the game with five out of six Bianconeri on the pitch (only Bonucci was on the bench): Prandelli's team lost to Ruiz's winning goal and will now have their fate decided against Suarez's Celeste. England however are now mathematically out.
For Gigi Buffon, in his fifth World Cup (a historic record shared with only two other players) his debut in the competition couldn't have been more disappointing.
Italy made a lively start in the Arena Pernambuco: they wanted to end a run which hadn't seen them win their second group game in the last three World Cups – despite the fact the Azzurri had found the net in their previous 15 World Cup games.
The match began with a slow tempo as the heat and humidity took their toll in Recife. Italy didn't appear in a hurry, seemingly preferring to wait for a gap to open up as opposed to getting the ball forward quickly. Pirlo made an excellent start in the middle of the park, providing quality and nous: the Professor twice sent Balotelli clear, playing as if he were hovering a metre from the ground, pinging the ball around with one-touch passes. Yet Costa Rica managed to resist.
Barzagli and Chiellini repelled their opponents' quick breaks and Buffon – called into action on 36 minutes – reminded the world why he'd been at four previous World Cups. The captain couldn't do anything about Ruiz though as he headed in off the bar from Diaz's cross a minute before the break to give the group's underdogs a shock lead.
The second half began with Antonio Cassano coming on to replace Thiago Motta but there was nothing in the tank. Italy's only real chance came from a set-piece: on 52 minutes Fant'Antonio won a free-kick and up stepped Andrea Pirlo to force a good save from Navas.
A few minutes later, Prandelli threw on Insigne for Candreva. Costa Rica were in control though and broke quickly, forcing Buffon to dash smartly off his line to clear ahead of Diaz. The Azzurri defence, led by Barzagli, played a very high line, while the South Americans dropped deeper, still succeeding however in catching Balotelli and Insigne offside: indeed midway through the second half the game had already witnessed more offside decisions than any other match in Brazil thus far (11 the number of decisions given against Italy come the end of 90 minutes).
Marchisio was withdrawn in Prandelli's last switch, as he went off having given everything, replaced by Cerci. But there was no space out there, Costa Rica closed things down and went on the counter attack, causing Italy problems. Chiellini made a decisive challenge to deny his opponents on 83 minutes.
The Azzurri were made to pay for not reacting, not having enough energy and for not managing to create a single opportunity in the entire second period. In fact, the final opportunity came from a Brenes effort in stoppage time which ended just wide of the post.
It was Pinto's side then who were left dancing the Samba in the middle of the pitch come the final whistle. Italy were unable to come back after conceding the first goal: the last time the Azzurri managed to do that in a World Cup was against Nigeria in USA 94. Prandelli's side will need a point against Uruguay next Wednesday to qualify as they are currently second on goal difference.
"We hoped to play better and win the game, instead we had a few more problems and they saw the game out well once they took the lead. We'll bounce back by looking on the bright side, i.e. had we drawn nothing much would have changed. We hope to do what we have to do well against Uruguay." This is what Gigi Buffon said after the match, recognising that Italy's opponents were the better side.