Give Group D a grade of D for an unstimulating windup to its round-robin schedule. The quartet slogged through more than three hours, scoring just one goal among them and slowing the momentum at a largely enthralling World Cup.
Uruguay, a man up from the 59th minute on, tallied in the 81st and ousted four-time champion Italy, 1-0. Accompanying the Uruguayans into the next round is Costa Rica, which needed a tie to clinch the top spot and played like it in a 0-0 bout of tedium with England.
The match with more at stake brought together the inscrutable strikers Mario Balotelli and Luis Suarez. Each lived up -- or down -- to his reputation.
Balotelli jumped into an opponent's head while pursuing the ball, earning his second yellow card at the tournament, which meant Italy's next match would have unfolded without him. Later, he was conked in the head and left briefly before returning. At halftime, Balotelli was lifted, apparently to protect him from himself, since another card could have incurred more severe punishment.
Later, Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini claimed to the referee that he was bitten by Suarez, which would not be unprecedented, the Uruguayan having been penalized for such carnivorous acts before. Whatever transpired this time went undetected, though most of the rough stuff was duly recorded. Thirty-eight fouls, evenly split between the squads, bogged down the game.
The red-card ejection of midfielder Claudio Marchisio after a collision was objectionable to Italy. Playing 10 on 11, it buckled down until Uruguay captain Diego Godin banged in a header.
As for the Costa Ricans, coach Jorge Luis Pinto had an apparent change of heart and deployed most of his regulars after indicating they would be rested. But the usual lineup must have gotten implicit instructions not to extend itself and only four shots were launched, half on goal.
By contrast, English coach Roy Hogsdon, assured that the envelope containing his next paycheck would not include a pink slip, cleaned his bench from the start. The Brits sent out nine fresh players, and it showed in sloppy passing and ball handling.
Daniel Sturridge, a repeat starter, did pose a constant threat, menacing the goal often. He nearly drew a penalty when upended in the box but play continued.
The upshot was that two more European powers trudge home before the knockout phase with a combined 1-4-1 record.
Unlike Hogsdon, Italy's coach fell on the sword for his side's sorry performance. Cesare Prandelli confessed to a failed "technical plan" in a news conference after the game and announced he would resign.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun