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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 21 May, 2019
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Navas the hero as Costa Rica's adventures continue

The Central American side are into the quarter-finals where they’ll face the Netherlands.

Keylor Navas makes the crucial save from Greece's Fanis Gekas.
Keylor Navas makes the crucial save from Greece's Fanis Gekas.
Image: Hassan Ammar/AP/Press Association Images

Mikey Stafford reports from Recife

Costa Rica 1-1 Greece

AET – Costa Rica win 5-3 on penalties

ANY IRISH STILL shopping around for a team to support in the knockout stages of the World Cup should look no further than Costa Rica. For the sheer nostalgic thrill of it, if nothing else.

Having coasted through the group stages at the expense of three world champions the small Central American country last night mimicked Jack Charlton’s Italia ’90 heroes to advance further than they have ever done before.

After a dull if nerve-wracking last-16 tie with a team from southeast Europe, Costa Rica’s heroic goalkeeper brilliantly dived to his right to save the opposition’s penultimate penalty before a centre-half stepped up to drill the last penalty high into the net.

For Arena Pernambuco read Genoa’s Stadio Luigi Ferraris, for Greece read Romania, for the brilliant Keylor Navas read Packie Bonner and for Michael Umana read David O’Leary.

To be here on a hot, humid night in Recife was to be transported back 24 years.
Like the Republic of Ireland, Costa Rica made it hard for themselves. At least they don’t have to face the hosts in the quarter-final, instead its the Netherlands in Salvador on Saturday.

Ahead after Bryan Ruiz’s strike early in the second half the Central Americans were on the floor after Sokratis Papastathopoulos popped up at the death to force extra-time, but Costa Rica prevailed after showing wonderful nerve to score all five penalties, with keeper Navas extending his 120 minutes of heroics into the shootout, guessing right and getting a strong arm to Theofanis Gekas’s spot kick.

Brazil Soccer WCup Costa Rica Greece Sokratis Papastathopoulos scores his equaliser. Source: Hassan Ammar/AP/Press Association Images

After Papastathopoulos’ last-minute equaliser the momentum was all with Greece in the first half of extra-time and having played since the 67th minute of normal time with 10 men Costa Rica, who had run Uruguay, Italy and England ragged, were themselves beginning to flag.

The traditionally conservative Greeks had thrown on all their attacking players as they chased an equaliser and with Gekas and Konstantinos Mitroglou joining the attack the 2004 European Champions looked the most likely to advance to a first ever World Cup quarter-final as they peppered Navas in the Costa Rican goal.

However, Costa Rica’s own substitutes were also proving menacing, with Randall Brenes twice going close either side of half-time in extra-time.

As the 70% humidity began to take its toll the game opened up. No one connected with Joel Campbell’s corner at one end and quick as a flash Mitroglou was charging down the field and putting Lazaros Christodoulopoulos through but not for the first time, or the last, Navas saved his side’s bacon.

One heroic ‘keeper was lost today with the elimination of Guillermo Ochoa’s Mexico but the Levante shot-stopper kept the flag flying, brilliantly denying Mitroglou in the final moments of extra time.

Navas was at his best at the end of normal time too, seconds after finally being beaten, when a header from Fulham’s Mitroglou forced yet another wonderful save.

In their whole, lengthy qualifying campaign Costa Rica never lost any of the 16 matches in which they scored, so for them breaking down the stubborn Greek defence carried possibly even more significance.

The loss of defender Oscar Duarte for the final 25 minutes of normal time following a second yellow card did not aid their cause but Jorge Luis Pinto reduced his back line from five to four and kept his four-man midfield in support of frontman Joel Campbell, as they sought not to fall back too deep as Greece, also looking to make history, desperately sought the goal that would force extra-time.

As was the case throughout the game, the Europeans’ favoured route to goal was via dead balls, but when captain Georgios Karagounis uncharacteristically blasted a 25-yard free-kick well over the bar you got the sense the 2004 European Champions would be going home.

The Fulham midfielder then forced his way into the area with four minutes to go but Navas smothered his dangerous low cross.

Uneventful

Boos rang out around the stadium after arguably the least eventful 45 minutes in 52 matches of a wonderful tournament to date but the crowd were still engaged enough six minutes into the second half that it took several seconds before the sight of Sepp Blatter on the big screen to elicited the standard response. More boos.

The FIFA president had lauded the “attacking spirit” of the World Cup so one presumes he would have been delighted to see Costa Rica take the lead two minutes after his cameo.

Left winger Christian Bolanos rolled a ball gently across the Greek 18-yard line and, with no defender reacting, Ruiz stuck out his left foot and jabbed the ball into the bottom corner, leaving Orestis Karnezis flat-footed.

After making two changes for the 0-0 draw with England, Costa Rica reverted to the 11 that started in the wins over Uruguay and Italy. Michael Umana returned in defence for Roy Miller, while Christian Bolanos replaced Randall Brenes on the left wing.

With Karnezis recovering from the back injury suffered in the first half of the 2-1 win over Ivory Coast, Greece’s one enforced change was in midfield, with Andreas Samaris coming in for the injured Panagiotis Kone.

The 25-year-old Olympiacos player stood out among his experienced team-mates as he looked a bag of nerves in the early stages. He made three poor errors, two of which were very nearly very costly. First he passed the ball straight to Costa Rican dangerman Campbell and then he was dispossessed in front of his own goal, allowing Ruiz to slip a pass to the onrushing Bolanos, whose left-foot shot was well over.

Ruiz and Campbell seemingly enjoy a wonderful understanding with each other and while their intricate flicks and back heels looked Costa Rica’s best chance of creating something, the Greek approach was more predictable.

Fernando Santos has his team geared to counter-attack and on occasion during the first period they looked to build a head of steam, particularly down the left with Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Jose Holebas combining.

However, the sight of left full-back Holebas screaming in vain for a corner kick as early as the 10th minute told you how much the Greeks still value a set-piece.

Dead balls may have yielded Greece nothing in the first half, but Costa Rica’s best chance came from a free earned by Campbell’s strong running on the edge of the box. Had AIK midfielder Celso Borges made contact with Bolanos’s delivery it would surely have meant the lead for Costa Rica.

That was it though for the Central Americans who charmed the world during the group stages. Like many before them they struggled to break down a well-drilled and diligent Greece and they had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping them in the game on 37 minutes.

Navas was arguably the form keeper in La Liga this season and he pulled off a miraculous toe-tip save here from Dimitris Salpingidis, who met Holebas’s cross from the left with a right foot volley five yards out.

It would not be his last. Bonner would be proud.

Costa Rica (5-4-1): Keylor Navas; Cristian Gamboa (Johnny Acosta 77), Oscar Duarte, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Michael Umana, Junior Diaz; Bryan Ruiz, Yeltsin Tejeda (Jose Cubero 67), Celso Borges, Christian Bolanos (Randall Brenes 84); Joel Campbell

Booked: Duarte 43′, Tejeda 48′, Ruiz 71′

Sent Off: Duarte 67′

Greece (4-3-3): Orestis Karzenis; Vasilis Torosidis, Kostas Manolas, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Jose Holebas; Giannis Maniatis (Konstantinos Katsouranis 77), Giorgos Karagounis, Andreas Samaris (Konstantinos Mitroglou 58); Dimitris Salpingidis (Gekas 69), Giorgos Samaras, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos

Booked: Samaris 35′, Manolas 72′

Referee: Benjamin Williams (Australia)

Attendance: 41,242

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About the author:

Mikey Stafford

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