World Cup previews, match day 9: Italy already hot and bothered

World Cup previews, match day 9: Italy already hot and bothered
Italy's Gianluigi Buffon (left) and Daniele de Rossi pose for a selfie during a training session in Mangaratiba ahead of the Costa Rica match. Italy beat England 2-1 in their first game last week.

Italy already hot and bothered

Group D: Italy v Costa Rica

NATAL - Daniele de Rossi, Italy's tough man, is often described as the complete player - a leader, a passer and a tackler with a bite as fierce as his bark.

Yet even he was talking about fear ahead of today's clash (midnight, Singapore time) with giant-killers Costa Rica, with a place in the last 16 of the World Cup the prize.

There was the fear of complacency from the four-time champions, who have No. 1 goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon fit again, against Group D's supposed sacrificial lambs who were never expected to shock Uruguay last week.

"You have to face them prepared to play to the death," said de Rossi. "There is no longer a World Cup as it once was, like in Italia 90 when games ended 8-0.

"You cannot afford to think that Italy will beat Costa Rica just because we are called Italy."

Then there is the fear of the sweltering conditions in Recife, where he said the Italians were "dying" last year during their Confederations Cup quarter-final win against Japan.

"We suffered from the heat as well as Japan's speed," said the 30-year-old.

"The game against Costa Rica is the most dangerous game, because we play at 1pm local time and it will be really difficult."

The concern is serious enough that Italy's team doctor, Enrico Castellacci, wants Fifa to allow time-outs so the players can drink water. He said: "If the temperature is 32 deg C or above, then the time-out is almost automatic. However, what they don't consider is that with humidity above 70 per cent, it feels warmer."

Costa Rica, however, would be forgiven for keeping the pace high from the kick-off as they go in search of another upset.

Midfielder Christian Bolanos said: "We hope to benefit from the climate as we are used to playing in these temperatures."

De Rossi, known as DDR to the Italian press, also harbours a more personal fear - being a magnet for controversy.

He was red carded in the 2006 tournament for elbowing America's Brian McBride in the face. Four years later, he committed blatant dives in group matches against Paraguay and New Zealand, as Italy were knocked out.

Playing in his third World Cup, de Rossi, who has spent his entire senior career at Roma, admits he fears what Brazil 2014 might have in store.

"Superstitious? A little bit," he said. "Especially of a red card. The only time I have been sent off playing for Italy was in 2006. Now I want to make sure that we qualify for the second round."

The "Ticos", having taken a page from the Italians, are determined to stand in the way.

Their collection of nimble attacking talent showed admirable organisation in defence and rapier-like speed on the break in defeating Uruguay 3-1, setting themselves apart from previous Costa Rican teams who relied more on maverick individual talents.

"When we win the ball, we counter-attack quickly," midfielder Celso Borges said.

"We don't elaborate too much, it's more like a knockout punch."

Adding a twist to the match is the battle between two young strikers, Italy's Mario Balotelli and Costa Rica's Joel Campbell, a player capable of providing the cutting edge to the Central Americans' smash-and-grab approach.

Balotelli, 23, is wanted by Arsenal. His club AC Milan however have eyes on Arsenal's Campbell, who scored the opening goal against Uruguay. The Italian club could lower their £27 million (S$57 million) asking price for Balotelli if the 21-year-old Campbell is included in the deal.

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