Two of the more surprising Round of 16 participants battle Sunday at the Pernambuco as Group D winner Costa Rica takes on Group C runner-up Greece.
Taking on such heavyweights as Uruguay, Italy and England to win two games in the group stage, Costa Rica enters the knockout round for the second time in its World Cup history and eyes its first quarterfinal.
Led by forwards Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz, Los Ticos first blew away Uruguay 3-1 in the opener, and parlayed that momentum into a 1-0 victory over the Italians to make the Round of 16 a near certainty.
Lacking a deep history seems to be the only reason Costa Rica has been labeled a surprise. They finished second in the qualifying rounds behind the United States, totaling 13 goals, and Campbell’s emerged as one of the tournament’s best players with room to grow, especially with 66-cap, 15-goal midfielder Celso Borges captaining the attack.
Entering the Round of 16 for the first time in three Cup appearances, the same could be said for Greece but their chances of advancing seem much slimmer with an attack that only came to life in the stunning 2-1 group finale victory over Ivory Coast.
Giorgos Samaras’s penalty in added time put Greece through, but they are still the lowest scoring squad in the knockout stage and are the only remaining country with a negative goal differential at -2.
Greece will need top international scorer Theofanis Gekas to find the back of the net. Leading the squad with 24 career goals, Gekas has been used mostly as a substitute but he’s failed to take control of the attack with only two total shots. The majority of Ethniki’s shots have gone to midfielder Panagiotis Kone and Samaras, each with five, but with only a penalty between them.
The chances of Greece finding any sort of attacking groove against Los Ticos are in serious doubt. Costa Rica surrendered one goal in the group stage with defender Giancarlo Gonzalez playing exceptionally well and Levante keeper Keylor Navas totaling seven saves.
However if there’s any squad built to end Costa Rica’s highflying ways, it’s the defense-first Greeks. Playing in his first cup and holder of only 12 caps, defender Kostas Manolas, 23, has taken the reins for Greeks back line and is capable of taking on forwards both strong and quick. Keeper Orestis Karnezis has made 11 saves during the tournament, is used to making up for an attack that hasn’t totaled more than seven shots on goal in a single match.
The winner takes on either the Netherlands or Mexico in the quarterfinals.
Start Time: Sunday, 4 p.m.
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: (bovada.lv)
Costa Rica 27/20
Over/Under: 2 goals
Prediction: Costa Rica 0-0 Greece, but Los Ticos take it via penalties.