What is he doing here?
Goal named Costa Rica hero Keylor Navas in our Liga Team of the Season back in May, and it raised eyebrows among our readers, particularly given the brilliance of Atletico Madrid's Thibaut Courtois. But the hero of Sunday night's thrilling shootout win over Greece in Recife was there on merit - and he has backed up his astounding performances for Levante by being one of the unlikely stars of this World Cup.
Great goalkeepers from Central America don't exactly roll off the tongue, it's true, but Navas is an excellent exponent of his trade - a man who has bided his time to make a name for himself in La Liga and who has kept out some of the finest strikers in the world as part of Costa Rica's run to the quarterfinals. England and Italy couldn't get past him, while it took a spot kick from Uruguay to deny him a perfect group-stage record.
Against Greece, a 91st-minute goal took the match to extra-time, then penalties - and Navas came to the fore. With the score locked at 3-3, he threw himself high to his right to block Theofanis Gekas' kick. Umana slotted home the winner, and now Costa Rica is in dreamland, with a match against the Netherlands for a semifinal slot.
It's a story of patience. The 27-year-old started his career with all-conquering Costa Rican club Saprissa, winning a host of national titles and also the CONCACAF Champions League, which saw him appear in the FIFA Club World Cup as well. Later, in 2009, he was named Best Goalkeeper in the Gold Cup. He earned a move to Albacete a year later, where he played in Spain's second and third tiers.
Levante's scouts were watching, though, and signed Navas in 2011, initially on loan and then on a permanent transfer. The Costa Rican was forced to wait in the wings and spent his first two seasons as backup to Gustavo Munua, only stepping up to the No. 1 position after the Uruguayan left to join Fiorentina last summer and subsequently returned to his homeland with Nacional.
The wait was worthwhile. In 2013-14, Navas was in spectacular form for Levante and kept 15 clean sheets for the Valencia-based side in La Liga. Agile, athletic and boasting remarkable reflexes, he has caught the eye of a number of top teams this term, among them Atletico, which will likely need a new goalkeeper with Courtois likely returning to Chelsea.
"In key moments, Keylor Navas helped us," his club boss Joaquin Caparros beamed recently. "To beat quality opponents you have to be intense, show maximum efficiency and have a good goalkeeper."
They had one, and so do Costa Rica.
Before the World Cup, Spanish tennis player Pablo Andujar smashed balls at the Costa Rican with his racquet from the egde of the box on a visit to the club he has supported since childhood. Few found the net and the Davis Cup player could only watch in admiration at how his 100 mile-per-hour drives were repelled by the shot-stopper.
"I play in a very competitive league and every Sunday I come up against some of the best players in the world, so I stopped being nervous about facing big-name players a long time ago," Navas told FIFA in an interview published recently. "I feel quite relaxed. For me it’s a great challenge to play against the best."
With Navas in this form, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben had better watch out. He, and his team, are the story of the tournament so far, and it's not over yet.