Day 9 of the World Cup featured yet another stunning development: Costa Rica going through to the knockout stage, eliminating England in the process. Here's what happened:
COSTA RICA MAKES ANOTHER CONCACAF STATEMENT
Regardless of what happens from here on out, the CONCACAF region has had quite the impact on this World Cup. The latest example: Costa Rica. Bryan Ruiz's header at the end of the first half was all Los Ticos needed to down Italy 1-0 and cement their place in the knockout stage for the second time in team history while preventing England from getting out of the group.
After shocking Uruguay, Costa Rica showed it was no fluke in stifling the Azzurri, and now it has every chance to finish atop a group that features three former World Cup champions. Couple that with Mexico's strong showing thus far in Group A -- holding host Brazil to a 0-0 draw while taking the game to the Selecao at times -- and the USA's suddenly optimistic outlook in Group G, and CONCACAF could feasibly have three of its four entrants be among the final 16 teams.
As of now, CONCACAF teams are 4-2-1, with Honduras accounting for both losses. The tournament has reflected well on the region's club scene, too. Ecuador's Enner Valencia, who plays in Mexico's Liga MX for Pachuca, is tied for the tournament lead with three goals. MLS' Tim Cahill scored what many consider to be the goal of the tournament thus far, and Clint Dempsey scored the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history. Even MLS referee Mark Geiger, who has come under fire for his league officiating in recent seasons, has performed well to the point that FIFA awarded him the Spain-Chile match, and he could be in line for greater assignments down the road.
In what has been a tournament marked by unpredictability, CONCACAF's overall showing in the face of little-to-no expectations has been a major talking point.
FRANCE'S FIVE-STAR SHOWING
Aside from Colombia, Germany, the Netherlands and Chile, perhaps no team has been as impressive-looking as France. Playing against Switzerland -- who it's easy to forget was the seeded European team that landed in this group, not France -- Les Bleus ran out to a 5-0 lead. Not even a missed Karim Benzema penalty kick could put a damper on the eventual 5-2 win, one that all but sealed France's first-place finish in Group E.
Despite Franck Ribery missing the World Cup with an injury and Samir Nasri being left out of the national team per manager Didier Deschamps' preference, France is on an absolute roll and looks locked in and primed for a deep run.
ECUADOR GETS NEEDED WIN
Following group-opening losses, Ecuador and Honduras both needed a three-point haul -- Ecuador more so, considering its final group game is against France (see above) -- and La Tri completed a comeback to get just that.
In response to Carlo Costly's goal and one atrocious miss of his own, Valencia scored twice to give Ecuador a 2-1 win. The result put the South American side into second place, tied on points with Switzerland but ahead on goal differential. There's plenty to play for in the group finales for all four teams, but Ecuador positioned itself nicely after letting points slip away by conceding the latest goal in group-stage history to the Swiss in their opener.
The England bandwagon is disembarking. U.S. soccer fans, do you welcome the following with open arms?
I am now supporting the USA in this World Cup.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) June 20, 2014
WHAT'S ON DECK (all times ET)
- Lionel Messi and Argentina return to action against Iran in Belo Horizonte, heavily favored to secure three more points in Group F (12 p.m., ESPN/Univision).
- Germany faces Ghana in Fortaleza in a match with massive implications for the USA in Group G. A Germany win would mean the USA is into the knockout stage with a win of its own against Portugal on Sunday (3 p.m., ESPN/Univision).
- Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina always figured to be duking it out for second place behind Argentina in Group F, and they'll settle plenty on the field when they meet in Cuiaba (6 p.m., ESPN/Univision).