Costa Rica vs Greece match report World Cup 2014: Umana converts decisive penalty after Theofanis Gekas miss

Costa Rica 1 Greece 1 (Costa Rica win 5-3 on penalties)

Arena Pernambuco

The Ticos are on tour and they have no desire to go home just yet. Having wowed with their attacking flair topping their group, the Central Americans had to show amazing grit to fightback here from a Greek sucker punch.

Ahead after Bryan Ruiz’s strike early in the second half the Central Americans were on the floor after Sokratis Papastathopoulos popped up at the death to force extra time, but Costa Rica prevailed 5-3  on penalties after nervelessly converting all five spot-kicks and will now face the Netherlands on Saturday for a place in the semi-finals.

But Greece had earlier showed us their knockout pedigree again. Looking down and out with no time on the clock they finally found a way past Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas to force extra-time.

Having gone behind to an excellent Bryan Ruiz goal in the 53rd minute, the Europeans did not look like scoring against the 10-man Central Americans until Papastathopoulos pounced on a rebound from the Levante keeper to grab Greece the most unlikely of equalisers.

And they very nearly won it in injury time when a header from Fulham’s Konstantinos Mitroglou forced yet another wonderful save from Navas.

In their whole, lengthy qualifying campaign Costa Rica never lost any of the 16 matches in which they scored, so, for them, breaking down the stubborn Greek defence carried possibly even more significance.

The loss of defender Oscar Duarte for the final 25 minutes following a second yellow card did not aid their cause but Jorge Luis Pinto, reduced his back line from five to four and kept his four-man midfield in support of frontman Joel Campbell as they sought not to fall back too deep as Greece, also looking to make history, desperately sought the goal that would force extra-time.

As was the case throughout the game, the Europeans’ favoured route to goal was via dead balls, but when captain Georgios Karagounis uncharacteristically blasted a 25-yard free-kick well over the bar you got the sense the 2004 European Champions would be going home. The Fulham midfielder then forced his way into the area with four minutes to go but Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas, immense throughout, smothered his low cross.

After making two changes for the 0-0 draw with England, Costa Rica had reverted to the XI that started in the wins over Uruguay and Italy. Michael Umana returned in defence for Roy Miller, while Christian Bolanos replaced Randall Brenes on the left wing.

 

With goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis recovering from the back injury suffered in the win over Ivory Coast, Greece’s one enforced change was in midfield, with Andreas Samaris coming in for the injured Panagiotis Kone.

The 25-year-old Olympiacos player looked a bag of nerves in the early stages. He made three poor errors, two of which were very nearly very costly. First he passed the ball straight to Costa Rican dangerman Campbell and then he was dispossessed in front of his own goal, allowing Ruiz to slip a pass to the onrushing Bolanos, whose left-foot shot was well over.

Ruiz and Campbell seemingly enjoy a wonderful understanding with each other and while their intricate flicks and backheels looked Costa Rica’s best chance of creating something, the Greek approach was more predictable.

Fernando Santos has his team geared to counter-attack and on occasion during the first period they looked to build a head of steam, particularly on the left with Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Jose Holebas combining.

Dead balls may have yielded Greece nothing in the first half, but Costa Rica’s best chance came from a free-kick earned by Campbell’s strong running on the edge of the box. Had AIK midfielder Celso Borges made contact with Bolanos’s delivery it would surely have meant the lead for Costa Rica. That was it though for the Central Americans. Like many before them they struggled to break down a well-drilled Greece and they had their goalkeeper to thank on 37 minutes.

Navas pulled off a miraculous toe-tip save here from Dimitris Salpingidis, who met Holebas’s cross from the left with a right-foot volley five yards out.

Boos rang out around the stadium at half-time but the crowd were still engaged enough six minutes into the second half that it took several seconds before the sight of Sepp Blatter on the big screen to elicit the standard response: more boos.

The Fifa president had lauded the “attacking spirit” of the World Cup so one presumes he would have been delighted to see Costa Rica take the lead two minutes after his cameo. Left winger Christian Bolanos rolled a ball gently across the Greek 18-yard line and with no defender reacting Ruiz stuck out his left foot and jabbed the ball into the bottom corner, leaving Orestis Karnezis flat-footed.

Greece coach Fernando Santos reacted to the Fulham attacker’s goal by throwing on another Cottager, Kostas Mitroglou. Between them they played 17 times for the club last season, with Ruiz contributing 14 of those.

Having threatened to add a second through Bolanos Jorge Luis Pinto’s team threatened to retreat too far and when centre-half Duarte was sent off with more than 23 minutes to play it looked like being an uncomfortable last quarter for Costa Rica. Which it certainly proved to be.

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