In an all-round impressive performance at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Costa Rica has progressed through to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in history after a nail-biting 5-3 victory on penalties over Greece in their Round of 16 clash this morning.
In what was without doubt a justified man-of-the-match performance, Costa Rican shot-stopper Keylor Navas blocked a string of legitimate chances from the Greek attack and made an impressive single-handed save on Fanis Gekas’s penalty during the shootout to set up the memorable victory.
Needing to burst from the gates in similar style to that which ensured progression from Group D, Costa Rica responded to the call and immediately pressed into the Greek half and were unlucky not to convert via two good chances in the game’s first five minutes from Christian Bolanos and Captain Brian Ruiz.
Allowing Greece only the occasion counter assault for the opening 10 minutes, Los Ticos came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock once more on the quarter-hour mark when Ruiz set up Bolanos to the left of Karnezis’s goal; the resulting shot rising just over the crossbar.
Continuing to withhold the constant Costa Rican barrage for the next 20 minutes, Greece was not offered their first real chance on goal until the 37th minute of play, when Dimitros Salpingidis connected with a pinpoint accurate cross, denied only by a flailing Navas.
Finding half time impressively controlling the run of play, Greece was unable to continue laying the pressure upon returning from the break and took a huge hit when a seemingly less-than energetic counter launched by Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell resulted in Ruiz wrong-footing Karnezis and finding the back of the net in the 52nd minute.
Continuing to press forward, Costa Rica took a blow of their own in the 66th minute when defender Oscar Duarte was shown a second yellow for a careless tackle, leaving his nation a man down.
Identifying a lack of urgency on ball and inability to maintain possession, Greek Manager Fernando Santos made a number of changes that would eventually prove crucial; namely that of Gekas, whose effort on a loose save in the first minute of injury time was palmed directly into the path of Socratis Papastathopoulos who calmly slotted the equalizer.
Unable to break the deadlock over 30 thrilling minutes of end-to-end extra time, Australian referee Ben Williams blew full time on Costa Rica vs Greece, sending the stalemate to a penalty shootout.
Each of the first three players from both sides calmly stepped up to the mark and slotted home for their respective nations; Navas unlucky not to keep two from breaking his line.
When injury-time hero Gekas stepped up to the mark, silence again filled the stadium. Pushing his shot to the lower left corner of the goal, the Konyaspor attacker could only watch as Navas picked the right direction and line and pushed his effort wide of the mark, allowing Ticos man Michael Umana the chance to kill off the game a minute later.
The undoubtable surprise packets of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Costa Rica were expected to leave the tournament in straight sets after being drawn alongside three former Champion nations in Group D, but instead recorded impressive upsets over Uruguay and Italy before drawing with England to ensure ideal progression.
Having now beaten a Greek side touted by many as a legitimate dark horse contender, Costa Rica will now face undoubtedly their biggest test to date in a rampant Netherlands outfit who has recorded four standout victories at the 2014 World Cup, including a 5-1 thrashing of current champions Spain.
Given little hope of keeping their fairy tale run at the 2014 World Cup alive, Costa Rica is currently offered at generous odds of $7 at Ladbrokes.com.au to progress past the Oranje to the final four.