By TIM FONTENAULT
In the sweltering heat of Recife, holding on to a 1-0 lead over Greece in the 66th minute of the World Cup Round of 16, Costa Rica’s Oscar Duarte was sent off, leaving his team to play with 10 men.
It cost them late in the second half, when Greece’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored the latest equalizing goal in a knockout stage match in World Cup history. After that, however, Costa Rica’s will prevailed.
Greece pressed harder and harder the farther along the match went, all the way through the 30 minutes of extra time. There was no putting one past Costa Rica, however, as the Central American club advances to the World Cup Quarterfinals for the first time ever with a 5-3 victory in a penalty kick shootout.
In terms of excitement, there was none, and the scoring opportunities were few and far between for both sides.
It took 52 minutes, but Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz finally gave Costa Rica the lead. Christian Bolaños made a run down the left wing, pulled the ball back and played it towards the top of the box for Ruiz. Off balance, Ruiz swung at the ball without taking a touch and tucked it into the bottom-right corner. The quick decision stunned Greece’s defense, particularly goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, who had committed to defending the left post. He did not make an attempt at scrambling to Ruiz’s shot.
That was Costa Rica’s lone shot on goal throughout the 120 minutes. Most of the time, Costa Rica was on its heels in the defensive third, trying to defend as Greece advanced in numbers. The European side controlled 60 percent of the possession and put eight of its 23 shots on goal.
Defending against Greece’s numbers became difficult because of Duarte’s red card. Already on a yellow card, he stepped wildly at José Holebas, completely missing a ball he never had a chance at getting.
After that, it was up to Keylor Navas to stop Greece’s constant attacks. He was up to the task, even in the 91st minute, when he stopped Theofanis Gekas’ point-blank effort. Unfortunately for Costa Rica’s star goalkeeper, no one was in the vicinity of Sokratis, who put the rebound over Navas, who tried to recover after making the initial save.
Greece continued to press forward in extra time, but only got one noteworthy chance. Breaking out on a counter attack, Greece found itself in a five-on-two opportunity in the 113th minute. With better options available, the ball ended up on the right side of the box with Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, who shot the ball right at Navas.
In the shootout, no one looked likely to miss, even with Navas and Karnezis guessing the correct direction more often than not. With Costa Rica up 4-3 in the fourth round, Navas became the hero, diving to his right to stop Gekas’ effort. That gave Costa Rica defender Míchael Umaña the chance to step up and win the match, firing Los Ticos into the Quarterfinals with a powerful shot that Karnezis guessed correctly on, but had no chance of stopping.
Costa Rica will now play the Netherlands, the Group B winners who prevented an all-CONCACAF quarterfinal with their late victory over Mexico earlier in the day.