Los Ticos make World Cup history
Here are three thoughts from Costa Rica's stunning 5-3 win on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Greece in the round of 16.
1. The World Cup -- where even the bad games grip you
This World Cup has been a splendid tournament full of unforgettable moments, sublime goals, incredible photographs and fascinating stories. Yet this round of 16 tie was awful for large parts. It was as dull as it was predictable; Greece qualified for this match after scoring just two goals in the group stages, while Costa Rica conceded just once (and none from open play).
And yet it was entirely gripping too. A sending off, a late goal, some superb saves, an energy-sapping extra-time and the agony of penalties all added to the spectacle. Just when you thought Greece's negativity and dullness had finally spelled the end of their tournament, up popped Sokratis Papastathopoulos to break Costa Rican hearts and force an extra 30 minutes.
It's irksome to still hear the suggestion that penalties are a cruel way to decide a game; they're absolutely brilliant -- especially for a neutral. Theofanis Gekas, who missed for Greece in the shootout, won't agree, however.
It's difficult to think of many redeeming qualities Greece have, though you could begrudgingly give them credit for their character and resolve.They are so bereft of quality you have to praise them for limping toward the knockout rounds, courtesy of Georgios Samaras' controversial penalty that knocked out Ivory Coast. And with minutes remaining, they still believed.
You can accept -- and at times appreciate -- solid, defensive organisation, but a lack of ambition in a World Cup round of 16 match is unforgivable. Yawning chasms appeared between both sides' midfield and attack, and in a first half that had five Mexican waves in the opening 20 minutes, only Keylor Navas' superb stop from Dimitris Salpingidis managed to alleviate the boredom for a moment.
Bryan Ruiz's opener was entirely welcome; if Greece had opened the scoring, they would have retreated even further into their shell. Then Oscar Duarte's dismissal at 66 minutes coaxed them forward for their reward in 90 minutes, but their default setting is containment, and it's tough to love.
2. Costa Rica's battlers dare to dream
It's a fallacy that the country of Costa Rica do not have an army; Jorge Luis Pinto's band of brothers have battled gallantly throughout this tournament and topped a group containing three former World Cup winners on their way to a first quarterfinals appearance.
They were so desperately close to going out but held strong. Duarte's deserved sending off forced Pinto's men to drop deeper, and huge gaps appeared on the flanks. It looked as though they had coped with Greece's renewed endeavour, but Fernando Santos' side love late drama. From there, it appeared Greece's to lose, but this wonderful story continues to captivate.
Every tournament is richer for a tale of the underdog battling against all odds to reach the latter stages, and Costa Rica have really captured most -- if not all -- World Cup watchers' hearts. The Ticos have prospered in Brazil, thanks to defensive organisation fused with the odd moment of flair, not to mention Keylor Navas' superb ability in goal. Ruiz is a marvelous footballer when he wants to be, while Joel Campbell's exciting and enthusiastic approach to the tournament has whetted the appetite of Arsenal fans longing for him to get his chance in England.
Ruiz and Recife work well together; his goal saw off the Italians in the group stages, and a calmly swept finish just after halftime sent the Central Americans into delirium before Navas sparked more scenes of joy.
The fairytale continues. A quarterfinal against Netherlands awaits, and if Greece won Euro 2004, then why can't The Ticos dream?
3. Keylor Navas vs Guillermo Ochoa -- who's your pick?
After Guillermo Ochoa's fine showing in Mexico's defeat to the Netherlands before this match, it seemed as though there were no competition for his spot in the team of the tournament.
Yet Navas has gone under the radar so far and deserves to beat Ochoa as the best performing goalkeeper at the World Cup. He conceded just once before Sunday and saved seven out of eight shots on target.
His save from Dimitris Salpingidis will go down as one of the best of the tournament, with Ochoa's superb stop against Neymar the only other candidate in a category that I've just made up. The stop on Gekas' attempt in the shootout was stunning, and he deserves his moment in the sun.
Navas inspires confidence in his defenders, who know that if they are breached there's a considerably dependable final line of defence. His form at this tournament will come as no surprise to followers of Levante, who watched him excel in La Liga this season before continuing to impress in Brazil.
The World Cup is one big shop window, and you can add Navas to the list of players who could earn a move at the end, along with Ochoa. He is one of the integral reasons his country have gone so far and is the epitome of parsimony. A worthy candidate for the best player in his position at this competition, his miraculous late stop from Kostas Mitroglou sent the match to extra time before a save from the same player meant penalties -- and ultimately glory.