Yesterday started with Group D, with Costa Rica facing England and Italy facing Uruguay. Costa Rica was in, England was out, and Italy and Uruguay were fighting for scraps. Speaking of groups not following the pre-tournament script.
So, given that the Costa Rica/England game had little chance of impact, and was featuring an almost-completely revamped English side, I decided to watch Italy and Uruguay.
And man, whoever named soccer 'The Beautiful Game' did not have to suffer through this game. It had the most fouls in the first half, 23, of any game in the tournament. And while I wasn't counting, that wasn't a surprise.
Just about any time there was contact, one or both players took a dive. Balotelli, Chiellini, and Suarez were fighting for the crown of most (egregious) dive. As much as it pains me to say it, I'd give the first-half title to Balotelli.
Of course, part of the reason they kept trying it was that it was working. Italy had a fairly close-in free kick in the twelfth following one of those dives. Pirlo, of course, took it, and shot directly for net. It was a very nice shot, and the goalie was doing very well to deflect it over the net.
Ten minutes after that, Balotelli got a yellow for a really dangerous challenge from behind. He was flying over another player, and hit him in the back of the head with his shin; he was lucky not to get a straight red for it.
And that card was important; probably because of the diving, Italy worried about Mario getting sent off, so he was subbed out at halftime.
In the second half, Uruguay got the first good scoring chance in 58th, but Rodriguez, running down the left, near center, put the shot off to the side.
Only a minute after that, Marchisio, taking the ball upfield, kicked over the ball and into the leg of a South American defender, and was given a straight red. And that was a huge change in the complexion of the game, as the Italians stopped trying to win, and settled for just playing for a draw.
Buffon, the Italian goalie (and captain), got lucky he didn't get thrown out also. He ran most of the way down the field and really aggressively got in the face of the ref, and stayed there a while, yelling and pointing at the ref. I was amazed the ref didn't at least give him a yellow.
Anyway, that got the South Americans charging in, a lot, mostly trying for high crosses to headers, but it wasn't working for a long time. But in the 81st, it finally did work, as Godin headed in a corner kick, forcing the Italians to open up in the back a bit. And maybe that was the trick, as they could bring the big defender up for the corner, but he wasn't otherwise around.
Well, when the Italians started attacking, the Uruguayans mostly started bunkering down, and not challenging much. That gave the Italians a lot of room, and they started playing high balls into the box as well. And Godin won quite a few of those, as well. The rest went out of play.
The South Americans did get a couple of chances on the counterattack as well, though. One had Suarez and a couple other Uruguayans on a fast break. Luis made the right play, the pass, but when it was blocked back at him, he then tried to go through the whole defense by himself. Shockingly, that didn't work.
He got another chance just after, when the ball was kicked to him at midfield, and he saw Buffon well off his line. His 40-50 yard shot, though, missed to the right.
There was almost six minutes of stoppage, but that wasn't enough for Italy to equalize. So this group ended up as one of the biggest shocks of the tournament.
And speaking of shocks, I didn't say anything in there about Suarez's apparent attempt to, literally, take a bite out of Chiellini in setting up for a free kick. It was just a wretched display by both players (both immediately dove for the ground); I have no idea what went through Suarez's mind before he did that. It just makes no sense to me. I'm pretty sure he's more than two years ago, and that's the highest age for that to make sense.
I hadn't previously heard about his previous incidents. He'd apparently talked about how tough that was to explain to his young kids. I wonder what his explanation will be, now. Sad, really.
I haven't heard anything about him being suspended for that, but you've got to think it's being considered. And it's deserved; much as I like him, generally, that's just an awful, awful thing to do.
Be that as it may, Costa Rica ended up in a scoreless draw, so they win the group, and Uruguay takes the second spot.