By Afifah Ariffin | Goal Singapore
It might not have been the most interesting of games to watch, but the drama was ramped up a notch when Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored an equaliser for Greece in the dying minutes against Costa Rica. A goal-less extra time was followed by penalties, where La Sele edged out the Galanolefkis 5-3 to progress into the next stage of the tournament.
Costa Rica's resilience paid off
The Central Americans fought hard to clinch yet another astounding victory, as they secured a shoot-out triumph despite being a man down. Los Ticos were reduced to 10 men barely an hour into the game, after Oscar Duarte received his second yellow for a reckless sliding challenge on Jose Holebas.
But Jorge Luis Pinto’s men displayed true resilience, as they battled through the game to protect their precious one-goal lead. Alas, Greece did what they always do, firing home an equaliser in the 91st minute of the match.
Greece seemed to have the upper hand going into extra-time, but it was clear that Costa Rica would not go down till the end. Despite being disadvantaged, the team persevered and pushed for a penalty shootout, where they depended on their stellar goalkeeper to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
Navas saves the day
Keylor Navas performed extraordinarily. The Levante player was one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga last season and entered the World Cup confident of his nation's chances in Brazil.
Effectiveness is everything for the Costa Rican custodian, as demonstrated in his marvelous performance against Greece. There are very few shot-stoppers who are so quick and his speedy reflexes and fast recovery time make him truly impressive between the posts. The Greek goal was the first non-penalty strike conceded by Costa Rica at the tournament, who had kept clean sheets against Italy and England.
Navas had made some fantastic saves earlier into the night, his first being an instinctive stop to Dimitris Salpingidis’s attempt at goal in the 37th minute. The Costa Rican goalkeeper continued to pull off crucial stops as Greece piled on the pressure and emerged as the savior of the night when he blocked Theofanis Gekas’s penalty to seal the deal.
The 27-year-old has saved 14 of the 16 shots on target he has faced at the World Cup so far, including the shootout stop, making for an impressive 87% save ratio.
Costa Rican dream
No one expected Costa Rica to make it this far. Only their fourth appearance at the World Cup, this is the furthest that Costa Rica have made it ever and their remarkable performances at this year’s staging prove that they are the true underdogs of the tournament.
La Sele did fairly well in their debut appearance at the World Cup back in 1990, making it through to the last 16. Subsequently, however, Costa Rica failed to make it past the group stages in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
2014’s journey did not begin with rainbows and sprinkles for the Costa Ricans either, as they were grouped together with football giants England, Italy, and Uruguay. The assumption was universal that Costa Rica would not make it past the group stage. Instead, they shocked the world as they trampled all over the trio to secure top spot in Group D.
Costa Rica have been the true underdogs of the tournament. They will have an ardous task against Netherlands in the quarter-finals, but given their giant-killing exploits, one would be wise not to write them off quickly.