The two surprises from Group D meet on Friday when Italy takes on Costa Rica. Costa Rica is coming off the biggest upset in the tournament, by humiliating 2010 World Cup semifinalist Uruguay, 3-1. The Italians are coming off their own somewhat surprising victory by beating the English 2-1.

Before the World Cup began, most experts predicted this group would come down to former champions, Uruguay and England, with the Italians competing for the runner-up spot in the group. Now, Costa Rica and Italy find themselves atop the group fighting for a trip to the second round.

Costa Rica displayed surprisingly good defense against Uruguay last week, but that was against an Uruguay team that was playing much of the second half with only 10 players, and without their best player, Luis Suarez. Italy will pose a completely different challenge for Costa Rica as they are experienced, defensive minded, and healthy. Italian stars, Gianluigi Buffon and Marco Veratti are expected back for the team which should make them even more difficult to score upon in the backfield. In my opinion, England is a much better team than Costa Rica, and the Italians if they play their game should have no problem defeating Los Ticos.

The Azzurri need to watch out for Costa Rica’s star striker, Joel Campbell, who finished with a goal and an assist in the match vs. Uruguay.

If Costa Rica has any chance of winning, it will be in the midfield. Uruguay is notoriously soft in the midfield, and Los Ticos had no problem creating turnovers and scoring on the counter attack. The Italians will pose the exact opposite threat. They are absolutely spectacular in the midfield where they are lead by Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi, two of the greatest midfielders of our generation. The dynamic duo will look to control the possession of the game and deliver masterful passes to forwards, Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile.

If Costa Rica is indeed able to create turnovers, the Azzurri defense is formidable in the back and should be able to stop any counter attack the Costa Ricans offer. I expect more of the same style of play that Italy showed in their match against England, and for them to jump out early in this one and shut down Costa Rica on offense for the victory.

My Prediction: Mario Balotelli scores for Italy and the midfield is masterful as always. 2-0 Italy.

Betting odds courtesy of Bovada.lv:

Italy:  -1  (-115)    //   -210 Moneyline            
Costa Rica:   +1 (-105)   //      +550 Moneyline            
Draw +350