Costa Rica take another European scalp and march on
Five flawless penalties after a 1-1 draw in Recife books meeting with the Netherlands
Costa Rica 1 Greece 1 (aet, Costa Rica win 5-3 on penalties)
Costa Rica have booked their place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, hanging on to defeat Greece on penalties after surviving a last-minute equaliser and a sending-off in Recife.
Jorge Luis Pinto’s side will face in-form Holland, who will now strongly fancy their chances of making the World Cup semi-finals for the third time in their last four appearances at the tournament. Costa Rica looked exhausted after fending off the Greek fightback. The Greeks had dominated the latter stages of the match, finishing with 57 per cent of possession and 13 shots to Costa Rica’s two, but Costa Rica hung in there to knock out a third big European side.
Their star man was Bryan Ruiz, such a peripheral figure at recently-relegated Fulham that in January they loaned him out to PSV. Last night, he was the best player on the pitch. Whatever the difference between the lion of Recife and the wraith of Craven Cottage - whether it was confidence, desire or something else - Ruiz was at the heart of everything positive about Costa Rica. When he got the ball he showed the strength to hold off aggressive Greek marking and the subtlety to pick out his team-mates.
Yet for all the classy promptings of Ruiz and the clever movement of Joel Campbell, they were second best in the first half, and in Greece they were facing resourceful opponents who know how to land the telling blows.
On 36 minutes, the best chance of the game so far fell, unexpectedly, to Greece. Left-back Jose Cholevas hit a diagonal cross that caught Costa Rica napping and swerved beautifully into the path of the on-rushing Dimitrious Salpingidis, but his volley was saved by Keylor Navas.
The second half reversed the pattern of the first. The Greeks came out floating like a butterfly, but Costa Rica suddenly stung like a bee. On 52 minutes, Bolanos sent the ball low across the face of a Greek defence that had backed off a yard too far. Ruiz was unmarked and he had time to pass it into the net from the 18-yard line, the ball spinning lazily into the bottom-right corner of the net as the helpless keeper Karnezis stood and watched.
Greece immediately threw on their own misfiring Fulham striker, Konstantinos Mitroglou, who was witheringly described by his former team-mate Brede Hangeland as “too slow, too heavy, too lazy for the Premier League.”
On 66 minutes, Costa Rica made their first serious mistake. Centre-back Oscar Duarte leapt into a challenge on Cholevas that brought a deserved second yellow card from the Australian referee.
Greece were back in the game and Costa Rica were threatening to lose their discipline. Pinto reorganised his team, changing the shape to 4-4-1, and Greece quickly changed shape too, pushing three forward players up against the narrow Costa Rican defence.
Yet Greece still looked unlikely to score. Captain Karagounis personified their lack of precision, ballooning a decent free-kick chance over the bar.
Karagounis made another mistake on 87 minutes, bundling the meandering Ruiz over in the corner for a free-kick that was gratefully accepted by the Costa Rica captain. When Karagounis raged at the referee he was venting the anger he felt at himself; he knew his side were being beaten at their own game.
But Greece can never be accused of lacking determination. On 88 minutes Lazaros Christodoulopoulos beat his man down the right and hit a hard lot cross towards Mitroglou at the near post, which was blocked.
Three minutes later, Theofanis Gekas wriggled free and fired a close-range shot that Navas parried. The ball rebounded straight to Greece’s Borussia Dortmund centre-half Sokratis Papastathopolous, and his first-time shot bounced over Navas for 1-1.
Now the odds were against Costa Rica and they knew it. Their huddle before the start of extra time looked like a prayer group. Greece’s was more aggressive, with shouting and finger-jabbing from Euro 2004 veteran Konstantinos Katsouranis.
In extra time, Greece sought to exploit their numerical advantage while Costa Rica clung on for penalties. The Greeks squandered a five-on-two break after Costa Rica had, incredibly, sent most of their players forward for a corner. In the 121st minute, Mitroglou shot straight at Navas.
That was the last chance before penalties. The sides’ evident exhaustion did not affect the quality of spot-kicks as the first seven takers all scored.
Then Gekas stepped up for Greece. His shot was hard and on target but Navas dived to his right and saved. The Greeks consoled their shattered team-mate. Umana nervelessly closed it out for Costa Rica. Europe’s nemesis marches into the quarter-finals.