The best story in the World Cup will continue as Costa Rica survived fatigue and penalty kicks to beat Greece and advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in its history.
Bryan Ruiz scored in the 52nd minute and Costa Rica held the lead for almost the entire second half, playing down a man after defender Oscar Duarte was sent off with his second yellow. But fullback Sokratis Papastathopoulos buried a deflection in stoppage time to net an equalizer for Greece, setting the stage for the World Cup's ultimate drama. It was only Greece's third goal of the entire tournament.
Costa Rica survived another 30 minutes of extra time as Greece dominated possession and tried to capitalize on its man advantage. But as he had done all tournament, keeper Keylor Navas continued to stuff the Greek attack with incredible, point-blank deflections. Playing for penalties, the Costa Ricans withstood the offensive siege and took their chances with Navas in goal.
All five of Costa Rica's shooters confidently drilled their attempts (a far-cry from yesterday's Brazil-Chile match) and Navas made a diving, left-handed save against Theofanis Gekas in the fourth round to give his side the edge, 5-3. Defender Michael Umana strode up to the ball for Costa Rica's final attempt and converted his penalty to send Los Ticos to the quarterfinals against what will be a heavily-favored Netherlands team. After surviving Uruguay, Italy, England and now Greece's stubborn defense, don't be too quick to dismiss this resilient team.
FINAL: Costa Rica 1, Greece 1
Penalty kicks: Costa Rica 5 - Greece 3
Round 5/5: Defender Michael Umana drills his attempt in the top left corner and Costa Rica advances to the quarterfinals for the first time in history.
Round 4/5: Striker Joel Campbell stutters his way into a simple placed shot to the left. Good, again. Theofanis Gekas BLOCKED BY NAVAS!! HUGE DIVING SAVE TO THE KEEPER'S RIGHT!!! Costa Rica up 4-3.
Round 3/5: Giancarlo Gonzalez confidently strikes and buries his shot; Jose Holebas drills hit shot to the right corner. Incredible. No misses yet.
Round 2/5: Ruiz bangs his attempt home for Costa Rica; Christodoulopoulos goes right and nails his, too. Four shooters, four goals, thus far.
Round 1/5: CR's Celso Borges buries it down the middle; Mitroglou stutter-steps and buries it for Greece.
Penalties: Costa Rica has already beaten the odds by getting to penalties with just 10 men (arguably nine, considering how tired Joel Campbell is). Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas has arguably been the man of the match and his confidence is clearly soaring. Will that translate during penalties?
Update: Greek manager Fernando Santos has been sent off after a discussion with the referee. Not too sure what went down there.
Navas' latest save for Costa Rica in the second half of extra time:
120' -- Gekas flicks it to Mitroglou for a one-timer again right in front of the goal and Navas gets his body in the way of it. Two world-class saves from him. PENALTIES COMING!
118' -- Campbell loses possession near Greece's box and Mitroglou cracks an attempt way over the bar. Only a minute left before penalties, which is a fitting end for this one.
116' -- Another offsides from Greece. Costa Rica isn't even pressing high. Greek strikers just aren't staying on the line.
115' -- Catching up: Yes, Greece botched a 5-on-2 breakaway in the second half of extra time.
113' -- Game opening up as both teams are exhausted and searching for a late winner.
111' -- Jose Cubero shows incredible touch dancing between two defenders and then crosses it to Campbell, whose back is facing the goal. Leads to corner, but Greece intercepts ball and takes off on a 5-v-2 break. Navas parried one away to stave off the counter.
109' -- Good work from Campbell, gaining possession and working it away from multiple defenders. Free kick coming but at least Costa Rica can breathe for now.
106' -- Randall Brenes knocks one at Karnezis, but it's a bit high down the right flank. Basically Costa Rica's first real chance in extras. Joel Campbell is trying to help on defense, but if he tracks back too far, Costa Rica would have zero attacking options.
105' -- End of the first extra time. Los Ticos are going to be pushed for the next 15 minutes. IF they hold on, their prize will be penalty kicks.
104' -- Greece with some nervy defending in the back, but they clear it and will likely hold possession until the whistle blows.
101' -- One of these teams will advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history.
99' -- Katsouranis NEARLY pokes one in but Gonzalez with the vital block. Greece is on the offensive, and Greece is never on the offensive. Must-see stuff.
97' -- Question now is can Costa Rica hold on for 23 more minutes? Greece just pounding its attacking third with chance after chance. Nothing doing for Costa Rica and Joel Campbell.
96' -- Fatigue clearly setting in for Costa Rica with just 10 on the field.
94' -- Dangerous cross from Katsouranis hits an unsuspecting Gekas in front of the goal. Fortunately for Los Ticos ball goes wide. Gekas was expecting another forward to hit it.
92' -- Greece attacking early, but Costa Rica draws it offsides again. This time Mitroglou draws the flag.
Reminder: Costa Rica heads to extra time with just 10 men.
Navas kept the game equal with this incredible save on Mitroglou in stoppage time. First 15 minutes coming shortly.
95' -- We're headed to extra time because of course we are.
The late EQUALIZER:
91' -- Gekas turned on one with his right foot and Navas deflected it to the center where Papastathopolous was waiting. Great finish from him as he bounces it off the ground. Oh, Papastathopolous's first name is Sokratis becaus that's important. Fortunately, he didn't overthink his kick.
90' -- GOAL!!!!!!! GREECE!!! Papastathopolous knocks in a rebound and the Greeks have tied it up. Simply amazing.
89' -- Navas shown a yellow after he milks clock from goal kick.
87' -- Christodoulopoulos whips a cross in from the right side past Junior Diaz and it gets deflected right into Navas's arms. Relief from him.
86' -- Sub Brenes and Ruiz working hard in the attacking third to maintain possession and work the clock down. Greek defense looks absolutely gassed.
82' -- Gekas hauls in a long pass from the midfield, but Costa Rica's defense all over him. Positioning and shape have been near-perfect today.
79' -- Karagounis blows a set piece chance as he blasts it 10 yards over the net. Offsides and missed chances -- basically Greece's offensive game today.
The Greeks can only win if they hide the ball in a gift horse that Costa Rica would take into their goal— Bobby Big Wheel (@BobbyBigWheel) June 29, 2014
77' -- SUB: Maniatis off, Katsouranis on
76' -- SUB: Gamboa off, Costa on. Georgios Samaras was pushing Gamboa in the back, urging him to pick up his pace. Lots of little games going on amidst the game itself.
75' -- Ball trickles along baseline from Samaras to Gekas and they're continuing to put pressure on Costa Rica's undermanned defense.
71' -- Hard challenge on Joel Campbell from Manolas and this game is getting more and more physical as the stakes continue to rise. Most of it is just sloppy, lazy, dangerous tackling.
70' -- Now Ruiz draws a yellow for a high foul on Samaras. Greece attack is coming on strong, now.
68' -- SUB: Sapingidis out, F Gekas on.
67' -- Things just got a lot more interesting with that red. It puts more pressure on backline and more on the midfielders to hold possession of the ball. Costa Rica could also try to kill some clock with "injuries." Don't put it past them.
65' -- Costa Rica defender Oscar Duarte shown a second yellow and he's off. Los Ticos now need to hold this lead with 10 men.
Good luck, indeed:
So Greece's offense has to score on a bunkered-in defense that gave up 1 goal in 3 games to URU, ITA and ENG. Good luck!— Jerry Hinnen (@JerryHinnen) June 29, 2014
62' -- Greece trying to balance its defensive identity with fact it needs a goal to continue. No real chances since the first half miss from Salpingidis.
57' -- SUB: Samaris off, Mitroglou in
56' -- Estaban Granados was just awarded a yellow card while sitting on Costa Rica's bench. Either said something or threw something in ref's direction.
Ruiz didn't hit it hard, but he placed it perfectly into the side netting. Took the one-timer from Cristian Bolanos and buried it.
51' -- GOAL!!!! COSTA RICA!!! Bryan Ruiz one-times it in with his left foot from the top of the box and we have a goal! Hallelujah!!
49' -- All Greece early on in the second. Surprising given that they've scored two goals total in this World Cup. Have to think that something's going to give, perhaps off a header.
47' -- Tejeda draws a yellow after he cleats Karagounis.
47' -- Samaras heads an angled free kick directly into Navas's arms. Looked like Greece had a chance there.
46' -- We're off for the second half. Both these teams have already played to 0-0 draws in the World Cup. This isn't exactly unexpected, but hopefully that scoreline will change.
HALFTIME: Greece 0, Costa Rica 0
A work of art it was not. Costa Rica has had next to nothing in its attacking third while Greece missed the best (only?) opportunity of the game. Jose Holebas centered a wonderful cross from the left side at the 36th minute, and Dimitrios Salpingidis got his foot on it mere feet from the goal line.
Keylor Navas somehow blocked the chance with his knee to keep the clean sheet. Greece was also called for six offsides in the first half as it's played a much more aggressive style than what we saw in the group stage.
Gonna break for some kalamata olives. Be back in the second half.
45'+ -- Another offsides for Greece. That's six and counting. Can't keep shooting itself in the foot.
42' -- Yellow on Duarte for pulling down Christodoulopoulos just outside the box. Dangerous set piece coming. Karagounis curls it in but Navas snags it.
Stop may have saved Costa Rica's World Cup dreams. Navas and Mexico's Guillermo Ochoa have probably been the two best keepers in the World Cup.
36' -- Holebas crosses it from left to right and Salpingidis gets a leg on it from point-blank range. Keylor Navas with the save of the match thus far as he stops it off his knee. Corner coming, but wow.
35' -- Samaris draws a yellow off a poor tackle on Campbell.
34' -- Campbell goes down again in the box on a lofted ball, but he was between two Greek defenders and wasn't going to win it anyway. Good no call.
32' -- Another offsides from Greece and it's four total today. Not a good stat for a team lacking in chances.
29' -- Dangerous cross from Salpingidis to Samaras at the penalty spot but he's called offsides. Decent work from Greece in attacking third. Can't really say the same about Costa Rica.
27' -- Five total shots combined thus far and only one has been inside the box. That's about all you need to know.
25' -- Huge defensive header from Giancarlo Gonzalez as he knocks the ball away from Samaras in the box.
22' -- Set piece yields nothing and game has slowed to a snail's pace ... as expected.
20' -- Free kick coming for Costa Rica just outside the box. Campbell went flying off a tough challenge, but it was the result of a poor touch. Doesn't matter now as Los Ticos have the short corner coming.
17' -- Foul on Maniatis as Ruiz is carrying it up the field. Haven't seen much from Los Ticos' attacking duo.
14' -- Good aggression from Greek forwards thus far. Samaras crosses one into the middle, which draws a Greek corner. Ultimately no damage, but this is more attacking than we typically see from Greece. Definitely playing to win this more so than Costa Rica, to this point.
10' -- Offsides from Samaras. Barely, but he was. Was the hero against the Ivory Coast.
This thing is going to end 0-0 after 120 and go to kicks, isn't it?— Dana Wessel (@DanaWessel) June 29, 2014
7' -- Ruiz dropped one off for Bolanos along the left side but he blasts it over the bar. Two straight chances for Costa Rica and nothing on frame.
5' -- Awful giveaway from Samaris in the back leads to a run-out from Campbell and Ruiz. Greek defense tracks back to clean up the mess. Ruiz should've done more with that chance with the ball on his right foot at the edge of the box.
3' -- Both teams feeling each other out so far as these two teams have never met before. Both open conservatively (shocking).
1' -- We're off from Recife. Again, hope you like defense.
PREGAME: In a World Cup rife with surprises, no elimination match is more unlikely than Sunday's Greece-Costa Rica game. Both play extremely conservative and look to capitalize on counters. Given that it's a knockout game, each team's caution may be even more exaggerated. Should one team score early though, it could draw the other into a more aggressive formation thus opening up the field. We know who the winner will play (Netherlands). We just don't know who the winner will be. Whichever team wins will be making its first-ever appearance in the quarterfinals.
Greece's starting keeper Orestis Karnezis will be in the net after leaving the Ivory Coast with what appeared to be a back injury. Samaris earned the start on Sunday after scoring Greece's first World Cup goal against the Ivory Coast.
Costa Rica starters: Navas, Duarte, Umana, Gamboa, Gonzalez, Diaz, Ruiz, Borges, Tejeda, Bolanos, Campbell
Greece starters: Karnezis, Torosidis, Manolas, Papastathopoulos, Cholevas, Maniatis, Karagounis, Samaris, Samaras, Salpingidid, Christodoulopoulos
Greece vs. Costa Rica | Kickoff: 6/29, 4 p.m. ET | Stadium: Pernambuco, Recife
Match Preview: Neither Costa Rica nor Greece was expected to reach the knockout rounds, and certainly even fewer predicted that one would ultimately reach the quarters. But that's the scenario facing Costa Rica and Greece, both of which got to this point using the exact same formula. Each outfit is strong defensively and survived group play by seizing opportunities on the counter attack.
Costa Rica emerged from Group D unscathed, boasting wins over Uruguay and Italy along with a draw against England. Los Ticos conceded just one goal in group play (an early penalty kick against Uruguay in its first match, no less).
"If we have a good point, it's our defensive system, which isn't just the four or five defenders," Costa Rican manager Jorge Luis Pinto said. "Our defense is balanced, tough and very efficient." That includes stellar work rates from midfielders Celso Borges and Christian Bolanos. Both are vital as they instigate the transitions up to game-changing strikers Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell. The attacking duo adds a dimension to Costa Rica, which Greece simply cannot match. Campbell spent last season on loan to Olympiakos and is quite familiar with Greece's defensive mandate.
Greece advanced from Group C despite scoring its first two World Cup goals in it last group match. They have Georgios Samaras to thank, whose 92nd minute penalty kick buried the Ivory Coast and gave Greece a 2-1 win to send Les Elepants home.
Bolstering an already sturdy defense will be captain Kostas Katsouranis, who missed Greece's match against the Ivory Coast while serving a suspension. Los Ticos must also be weary of Georgios Karagounis from his midfield post as he's known to crack an opportunistic but dangerous attempt from time to time. He hit the cross bar against the Ivory Coast, nearly giving his side a two-goal lead.
The key for Costa Rica is to make sure that Greece doesn't score early and sits on the lead for the rest of the game. "Our tactics have been the same in all the games: To stay tight in defense to contain the opponents and stay dangerous in attack," Greece's manager Fernando Santos said. "The mistaken perception is that every team should play like Brazil or Barcelona, but they have the characteristics to play that way. ... But we are Greece."
Sunday's match is significantly underrated. Greece will play its first elimination game in history, while Costa Rica can advance to the quarterfinals also for the first time. Both offer identical styles, so scoring won't be in abundance. There may not be a ton of goals, but by no means will it be boring, considering the ramifications.