RECIFE: Keylor Navas produced one of the best goalkeeping displays at the World Cup as Costa Rica reached the quarterfinals for the first time by beating Greece 5-3 on penalties on Sunday having played almost an hour with 10 men. After the Ticos had conceded a stoppage time equaliser and extra time had finished in a 1-1 draw, it was left to Navas to make the defining contribution with a superb one-handed stop to keep out Theofanis Gekas’s fourth spot-kick. That allowed Michael Umana to fire high into the top corner and send the Central Americans into a last eight meeting with Netherlands and spark raucous celebrations.
Navas had already made two stunning saves, the latter in the final minute of stoppage time, as Costa Rica held on bravely having had Oscar Duarte sent off after 66 minutes. “(He was) brilliant,” Costa Rica’s ecstatic coach Jorge Luis Pinto said. “What he did will give him confidence and help his development and growth, he is one of the best in the world. We trusted him and he was in control during the penalties. “He has grown and is an extraordinary man, which was recognised today.”
Greece’s outgoing boss Fernando Santos who cut straight to the chase shared the sentiment. “If it were not for him, the result would have been different,” he said. Costa Rica will play the Dutch in Salvador next Saturday. An otherwise dire match was brought to life early in the second half when Bryan Ruiz calmly side-footed Costa Rica ahead but defender Duarte was dismissed midway through the half, allowing the Greeks to find a route back into the match. With the clock ticking past 90 minutes, Navas could only parry a shot into the path of Sokratis Papasthathopoulos who hammered it into the roof of the net.
A match between the only team to qualify for the knockout stage with a negative goal difference and the lowest scorers among all the group winners was always likely to be a cagey affair. And so it proved as Costa Rica probed and pushed in the early stages without ever truly committing to the cause while Greece seemed to be a team well aware of their own limitations. After an uneventful first half, where the only meaningful moment was an excellent save from Navas with his legs to deny Dimitris Salpingidis from close range, the spark the match needed to ignite it into a spectacle arrived seven minutes after the restart.
The Greece defence parted to give Ruiz acres of space to side-foot a Christian Bolanos cross into the net from 15 metres. Yet their hopes of seeing out the game in routine fashion were scuppered when Duarte received his marching orders after a sliding tackle on Jose Holebas produced a second yellow card and opened the door for a Greek comeback. Gekas swivelled in the box and Navas only parried his low shot into the path of Papasthathopoulos who fired home.
Extra time was largely one-way traffic, with exhausted Costa Rica defenders growing increasingly desperate in their efforts to keep the ball out. Navas did well to beat away an effort from Lazaros Christodoulopoulos before somehow keeping out a shot from Kostas Mitroglou after the clock had ticked past 120 minutes. Santos was sent to the stands before the shootout started and the tension mounted as seven penalties hit the back of the net before Gekas stepped up to the spot.
The substitute hit it firmly to the keeper’s left but Navas leapt athletically to push it clear with one hand, leaving Umana to thrash his effort into the to left corner. For Pinto, there was an inevitability about the result the minute it went to a shootout. “If we could play until 120 minutes with one player less, then the penalties were ours,” he said. “That is the law of compensation.”
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