One thing was certain, either Costa Rica or Greece were going to make their first trip to a World Cup quarterfinal. Two nations with a limited history of World Cup success entered the knockout stage seeking a possible date with an opponent of rich soccer tradition.
Ultimately, Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas would swat away Theofanis Gekas’s penalty attempt, and Los Ticos would prevail 5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 tie in the first 120 minutes in the Round of 16 Sunday at the Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil.
Costa Rica now moves on to face the Netherlands, who defeated Mexico 2-1 earlier in the day, albeit in a questionable fashion.
In a highly competitive and exhausting match on both sides, Ethniki defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored his first career international goal in added time to tie and extend the match another 30 minutes, while Costa Rica played with a man down for the final 54 minutes before a shootout would decide everything.
Forced to play with only 10 men after defender Oscar Duarte picked up his second yellow card in the 66th minute, Costa Rica gave up an equalizer to Greece with minutes remaining in extra time, nullifying an exceptional score from forward Bryan Ruiz.
Scoring his second goal of the tournament, Ruiz initially thought he'd extended Costa Rica’s magical, unprecedented run in the 52nd minute with a left-footed ground shot at the top of the penalty area after midfielder Christian Bolanos found him from the left side of the field.
The match could have been 2-0 moments later when Greek defender Vasileios Torosidis blocked a cross in front of his net with an obvious handball, but referee Benjamin Williams missed the play and Costa Rica wasn’t awarded a penalty.
Making the knockout stage with electrifying scoring, it was Costa Rica’s backline that held steady and forced five offsides from Greece in the first half alone, and 10 altogether. Ethniki’s defense continued to be effective, limiting Costa Rica’s top scorers Ruiz and Campbell to no shots in the first 45 minutes.
After receiving his first yellow in the 42nd minute, Duarte was sent off with a second booking in the 66th minute on Greece defender Jose Cholevas. All told Costa Rica was booked five times, with midfielder Yeltsin Tejada booked in the 48th, Ruiz also in the 70th and Navas in the 90th.
With a man up Greece wouldn’t squander the opportunity to tie and force extra time, with Andreas Samaris leading his attack downfield numerous times late but to no avail. It wasn’t until Papastathopoulos rebounded Gekas’s deflected shot with a right footed strike past Navas in the first minute of extra time that Greece managed to breakthrough and tie.
Named La Liga keeper of the year with Levante, Navas came up with five saves on six Greek shots on target in regulation time, and saved another in extra time before the biggest save of his career during the shootout.
Compared to the second, the first half was quiet with both sides looking any weaknesses along the defense, but neither breaking through with many scoring opportunities. Greece did have an excellent shot with midfielder Dimitris Salpigidis nearly volleying a cross from Cholevas into the net, but Navas swooped in with a leg save at the last second in the 37th minute.