Costa Rica's fairy tale will extend to a quarter-final against Holland on Saturday after goalkeeper Keylor Navas’s penalty shoot-out heroics eliminated Greece here.
It was Michael Umaña who scored the winning penalty for Costa Rica, their fifth, after Theofanis Gekas’s strike had been repelled by Navas’s strong hand — the only miss of the shoot-out.
“Last night, I dreamt, this, it seems untrue,” Umana said. “I was relaxed because I dreamed it. I dreamed it but I didn’t tell anyone. I felt very confident.
“This is for my family. It’s for the colleagues who got injured before coming here. They’re not with us, but they gave us a hand on the pitch.”
While Umana was euphoric, there was also relief for the Costa Ricans, who had been forced to play for 54 minutes with 10 men after the 66th-minute dismissal of Oscar Duarte.
They were leading at that point through a 52nd-minute Bryan Ruiz goal, but had to endure long periods of pressure before the Greeks secured an equaliser in stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes
But though Greece went on to dominate the extra period, Fernando Santos’s team were unable to finish off the exhausted Central Americans and Navas and Umana secured shoot-out victory.
With it, they ended any fear that Costa Rica, who became only the third Concacaf nation after the United States (twice) and Cuba, to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals on foreign soil, would freeze on the big stage.
Yes, they had beaten Italy and Uruguay and held England to a goalless draw while qualifying as winners of Group D, but the opportunity to surpass the tiny country’s heroes of
Italia 90, who made it to the second round, was a moment of history which for much of the game appeared to weigh heavily on the Costa Ricans.
There was little freedom to their play, despite the best efforts of the creative Ruiz and energetic forward Joel Campbell. Greece were able to suffocate the game and turn it into a battle of attrition. As they proved when winning Euro 2004, Greece are the masters of shutting a game down and maximising any glint of a chance that comes their way.
The Greek triumph 10 years ago in Portugal was achieved despite scoring just seven goals in six games, while none of their seven victories at major tournaments had been by more than one clear goal.
Santos, the coach whose contract expires today, has bristled at suggestions his team are dull and destructive, but there has been little evidence that Greece have added a creative edge to their game that has been absent for over a decade.
However, what they do, they do well and it would be unfair to dismiss the disciplined defensive qualities the Greeks possess. Their approach certainly stifled Los Ticos, with Christian Bolaños the only player to go close to testing Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis during a stultifying first half.
It was Greece who carved out the better chances before the interval, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Georgios Karagounis going close from long range before Dimitrios Salpingidis was denied on 37 minutes when Navas produced a crucial save from the PAOK midfielder. The breakthrough that the game desperately needed came seven minutes into the second half, however, when Ruiz stroked the ball into the net from 20 yards.
Clever build-up play by Campbell had released Bolaños down the left before the midfielder pulled the ball back for the Costa Rica captain.
Ruiz appeared to have some work to do if he was to test the Greek goalkeeper, but after being left unmarked, he guided a left-foot shot into the far corner of the net, with Karnezis rooted to the spot as the ball trickled past him.
The goal energised the Costa Ricans and they were unfortunate not to be handed the chance to double their lead within a minute when Dimitrios Salpingidis handled a cross in the penalty area.
Australian referee Benjamin Williams missed the incident — a failure which appeared to unsettle the official, who proceeded to issue an array of cards in an attempt to reassert his authority.
One of them, a second yellow awarded to Duarte for a foul on Jose Holebas, gave Greece renewed vigour, although it took another 24 minutes before Sokratis stunned the Central Americans by bundling in an equaliser to take the game into extra-time.
Greece went closest to winning the game in the extra period, but Kostas Mitroglou spurned two clear chances.
It came down to a test of nerve from 12 yards, though, and it was Los Ticos who came out on top.
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