France and Italy, busts at last World Cup, make strong recoveries

Italy should have few problems dispatching Costa Rica and advancing to the next round of the World Cup

The unwanted distinction of biggest bust at the previous World Cup boiled down to two longtime heavyweights, France and Italy.

Neither won a single match. France (0-2-1), torn apart by infighting, eked out just one goal. Italy (0-1-2) did marginally better but, as defending champion, its crash-and-burn was more dramatic.

Both appear to have distanced themselves from the disappointment of 2010 by opening with splendid wins -- Italy for its caliber of opponent (England) and uncanny passing (93.2% completion rate, highest at the Cup since 1966), France for its sheer dominance (3-0 over Honduras). They return to work Friday against foes that also won.

Italy gets Costa Rica, the tournament's least likely victor so far. Cast as a sacrificial lamb in Group D, Costa Rica made the most of four shots on goal against Uruguay with a 3-1 victory.

More would be needed against the Italians, who expect to welcome back peerless goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. He skipped the game with England to let ankle and knee injuries heal.

France's opponent, Switzerland, scored about as late as possible (93rd minute) to outlast Ecuador 2-1. Friday's combatants tend to play evenly (their last three run-ins have resulted in ties) and score little (two goals combined in those matches).

The nightcap pairs up two 0-1 squads with some weird coincidences regarding their managers. Luis Fernando Suarez of Honduras and Reinaldo Rueda of Ecuador formerly coached the opposite side. Both hail from Colombia, whose team they can follow in the knockout segment if their own squads fail to escape from Group E.

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