Costa Rica made history in Recife by overcoming Greece on penalties to reach the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals for the first time. In doing so, they denied their opponents the opportunity to set a similar benchmark after 120 minutes ended with the score at 1-1. Outstanding goalkeeper Keylor Navas was the hero of the shootout as he saved a crucial spot-kick and allowed Michael Umana to book Los Ticos a date with the Netherlands.
The game began cautiously in north-east Brazil. The Greeks, surprise qualifiers from the group stage, did their all to slow the game down from the start. Perhaps fearful of Costa Rica’s lightning counter-attacks, the 2004 European champions rarely pressed forward in a cagey opening period.
Local supporters in the Arena Pernambuco, site of Costa Rica’s famous win over Italy in the group stage, whistled the dour Greek tactics at every opportunity as they have come to appreciate Los Ticos in this part of the country. There were half-chances for both sides over the course of the first half, but neither Joel Campbell nor Georgios Samaras were able to make much of them.
The best chance of the period fell, almost predictably, to Greece on a sneaky break. A clever early cross from the left picked out Dimitrios Salpingidis at the far post, but the PAOK striker was denied by the sprawling Navas, who made a miraculous save from one of few shots on target.
Samaras had another header saved shortly after the break. The Greeks were beginning to look dangerous from set-pieces, but it was a false dawn as Costa Rica thrilled their adoptive fans with a goal of stunning quality. Christian Bolanos picked out captain and classy creator Bryan Ruiz unmarked on the edge of the box, and he side-footed into the bottom corner.
Things suddenly went dark for the Costa Ricans mid-way through the second-half. Defensive lynchpin Oscar Duarte was shown his second yellow card in the 66th minute for a rash challenge on Jose Cholevas and was promptly given his marching orders. Just when it seemed Los Ticos would survive playing a man down, Greece broke their hearts. Navas palmed away a shot from close-range with two minutes to go and Sokratis hammered home the rebound to spark wild celebrations in the Greek camp.
With an extra man and the extra options it brings, Greece were the dominant side in extra-time. But the spirited Costa Ricans gave everything to hang on for a shootout. All nine penalty takers scored before Theofanis Gekas stepped up and had his kick saved by Navas. Michael Umana then sealed the win for the Central Americans.
They now move on to meet the Netherlands on 5 July in Salvador after the Oranje dispatched Costa Rica’s CONCACAF rivals Mexico in dramatic circumstances earlier in the day.