By Philip O'Connor
RECIFE Brazil (Reuters) - Costa Rica's plan to stifle Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo worked perfectly as the Ticos took another major scalp with a 1-0 win at the Pernambuco arena to top Group D on six points.
"The idea was to stop him from playing forward, from feeding (Mario) Balotelli, from feeding the strikers, and it paid out," midfielder Celso Borges told Reuters.
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto told reporters before the game he had a plan to stop Pirlo and the 26-year-old Borges and his fellow midfielders implemented it perfectly.
"We were working him in zones," said Borges. "Every time he got the ball, somebody had to break the line to make sure he didn't play it forward.
"He was tough in the first half, playing one-touch (passes)... and then he dropped back a little."
The Costa Rican tactics worked a charm as Pirlo was prevented from firing his trademark passes around the field as he had done in the 2-1 win over England in their opening game.
The Italians need at least a draw in their final group game against Uruguay to progress, while Costa Rica have already booked a place in the knockout stages.
Last time they did that was in 1990 when a team containing Borges' father lost 4-1 to Czechoslovakia in the last 16.
Tipped by many to be the whipping boys of the group, Costa Rican have surprised everyone but themselves with their aggressive defending and slick counter-attacking game and have beaten two former world champions to progress.
"I wouldn't say we are surprised," Borges said as he was ushered away from the journalists' mixed zone to join his team mates on a bus headed for Recife airport.
"I don't know about other people, but I think we knew we could do it. Surprise is for the non-believers, but I think we've done our job."
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)