They are the story of the World Cup. The team that emerged from the group of death and now has the chance to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. So why have Costa Rica come this far?
Firstly and critically, they were underestimated, particularly by Uruguay. At half time in the Castelao, Oscar Tabarez’s side were 1-0 up and comfortable. They did not, however, press home their advantage and when Costa Rica scored twice in the space of three minutes, Uruguay encountered one of Costa Rica’s other attributes - their ability to defend in numbers and in depth.
In part, it is because of the 3-5-2 system employed by Jorge Pinto and partly because of their work-rate. In the second half of their 1-0 win over Italy, Fifa statistics noted that Costa Rica ran 12.7km more than their opponents.
The Italians, with some bitterness, suggested it was the conditions. Their two critical games, against Uruguay and Italy, were played in the heat of northern Brazil which suited Pinto’s side far more than their opponents.
However, even against an admittedly already eliminated England in relatively cooler conditions in Belo Horizonte, they kept their opponents at bay. The only goal Keylor Navas has conceded in Brazil was Edinson Cavani’s penalty in the opening game against Uruguay.
He has saved seven of the other eight on-target shots. Perhaps the most critical was the deflected drive from Diego Forlan which, back-peddling he tipped over the bar. Had that gone in, Uruguay would have been two up and it would have been hard to see Costa Rica reacting the way they did.
Costa Rica have been adept at taking their chances. Joel Campbell’s opening goal against Uruguay and Bryan Ruiz’s winner against Italy were superbly judged. Against a low-scoring team like Greece, the ability of a team to snatch a goal and then defend for your lives are likely to be enough. But, just in case, Costa Rica have been furiously practising penalties - and they know precisely who will take them.
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