Costa Rica fairytale continues thanks to keeper Navas
The 'whipping boys' of Group D are into the quarter finals after beating Greece on penalties
Costa Rica 1 Greece 1 (Costa Rica win 5-4 on penalties). The Costa Rica fairytale continues as Los Ticos made it into the quarter finals of the World Cup for the first time in their history, beating Greece on penalties in a game that will not be remembered as a classic but which contained drama aplenty.
The team that were supposed to be the whipping boys of Group D, have now seen off Uruguay, Italy, England and Greece and will face Holland on Saturday.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas emerged as Costa Rica's hero, producing a string of fine saves to keep his side in the contest after they were reduced to ten men in the second half and then making the critical stop in the penalty shoot-out to set up victory.
The first half was a dire affair and there were jeers for both teams at the break. Costa Rica had failed to muster a single shot on target in the first period but Bryan Ruiz gave them the lead after 52 minutes with a weak but well-placed shot that wrong-footed Orestis Karnezis and trickled over the line from the edge of the box. It sparked both teams to life and the game was transformed.
At the other end Greece managed 13 shots on target during the 120 minutes of the match, most of them after the dismissal of Oscar Duarte after 66 minutes, but Navas was equal to all but one, from Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the 91st minute. An amazing tip over the bar from a Costas Mitrouglou header seconds later sent the match into extra time, and another save from the same player in the 120th minute of extra time ensured penalties.
Then, with the score at 4-4 after eight perfect spot kicks the 27-year-old, who plays for Levante, pulled off another heroic save deny Theofanis Gekas. Plunging to his right Navas extended his left arm upwards to deny the veteran striker and give Costa Rica the winning edge. It fell to Michael Umana to take Costa Rica's decisive fifth penalty and he netted to send his side into the last eight.
"This was not a beautiful game, by any stretch, but in terms of courage and guts and nerve-shredding, gut-wrenching theatre, it was hard to beat," says Rory Smith of The Times. Paul Wilson of The Guardian agrees: "Few World Cup victories can have been achieved against such odds."
Navas, reports Matt Barlow in the Daily Mail, "was voted the best stopper in Spain last season and last night he proved to the world precisely why, with a series of thrilling saves capped by heroics in the penalty shoot-out". Despite losing a man and watching Greece equalise in injury time "Costa Rica dug in, rode their luck it has to be said, relied on their magnificent goalkeeper and won it on penalties".
In Navas they now have "one of the unlikely stars of this World Cup", says Goal.com, which reports that he practises by saving tennis balls fired at him from the edge of the box.
"With Navas in this form, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben had better watch out. He, and his team, are the story of the tournament so far, and it's not over yet." ·