Greece succumbed in a penalty shootout to 10-man Costa Rica, whose keeper Keylor Navas kept the score at 1-1 throughout extra time and then saved Fanis Gekas’s spot kick to send the Central Americans to the quarterfinals of the World Cup on Sunday night.
A Sokratis Papastathopoulos injury-time strike had cancelled out the Bryan Diaz opener for the “Ticos” to take the game to extra time, in yet another dramatic twist to a game involving the Greek national team.
The hot and humid conditions at Recife originally favored the Central Americans, who also enjoyed great support at the stands, in the quite noisy presence of some 1,000 Greek fans. However the punishing conditions then took their toll more on the team that played with a man down.
Both sides appeared nervous and reserved at the start, avoiding taking risks such as committing themselves to attack for long spells. Set pieces were therefore the source of most of the first half’s excitement. The jeering heard from the stands at the end of the barren first half was rather telling.
Greece often appeared reluctant to apply pressure on the “Ticos” beyond the halfway line in the first half-hour, allowing Costa Rica to enjoy more possession and be more creative.
One of the most interesting battles was the duel between Joel Campbell, the main source of concern for Greece, with Costas Manolas – two players who spent last season at the same club, Olympiakos.
The first chance of the game fell to Costa Rica with the match just seven minutes old, but Cristian Bolanos’s shot went over the Orestis Karnezis bar. Greece had to wait till the 28th minute for its first shot, by Giorgos Karagounis who in his 139th game with the national team saw his effort blocked by man-of-the-match Navas.
It was Navas again who denied Greece a goal on the 37th, when a Jose Holebas cross picked Dimitris Salpingidis at the heart of the penalty area but the PAOK striker saw his shot pushed out. This was easily Greece’s best chance in the first half.
It was seven minutes into the second half that Greece conceded a soft goal, as Costa Rica skipper Ruiz saw a gap in the Greek defense after receiving the ball from Bolanos and sent a rolling shot to the left corner of a stranded Karnezis.
On the day that the Fernando Santos contract expired (June 30 Greek time), the Portuguese coach saw that the game was slipping away from the Blue-and-whites and brought on Fulham striker Costas Mitroglou for holding midfielder Andreas Samaris.
A few minutes later (66th) Oscar Duarte got his marching orders for his second bookable offense, leaving the Ticos with 10 men. This prompted Santos to refresh his attack further bringing Gekas on for Salpingidis and pulling Giorgos Samaras out of the box to the left flank.
Navas came again to Costa Rica’s rescue on the 71st preventing a Samaras cross from reaching Mitroglou or Gekas on the edge of the six-yard box.
Greek pressure grew as the time went on, but the Ticos were well-marshaled in their defense and absorbed Greece’s attacks with relative ease despite their numerical disadvantage, up to 90th minute.
That was when a long ball into the Costa Rica box found Gekas. The Greece striker turned about and tried a strong shot on goal that Navas stopped, but the ball fell to Sokratis Papastathopoulos who bounced the ball over Navas and into the net, for only the second goal Costa Rica has conceded in the tournament.
Mitroglou could have won it for Greece before the final whistle, but his header was palmed over the bar by Navas.
Extra time was a cat-and-mouse game, as Greece threw everything at the Costa Rica defense that seemed shakier than ever in this tournament. Navas was called to task time and again as Gekas and Mitroglou filled the Tico box with their menacing presence.
At the other end Randall Brenes tried twice to upset the Greek defense, but to no avail.
Lazaros Christodoulopoulos tried several solo efforts and then saw Navas beat him on the 113rd in a counter-attack that had five Greeks against two Costa Rican defenders.
Mitroglou missed a glorious chance as he was again denied by Navas in extra-time’s 31st minute, and the game went to the shootout.
In Greece’s first ever penalty process in a competitive game, Mitroglou, Christodoulopoulos and Holebas found the target, but Gekas was beaten by Navas so Michael Umana completed Costa Rica’s perfect (five out of five) spot kicks and Greece’s wonderful adventure in this World Cup.
It also marked the end of Santos’s tenure on the Greek bench and of the international career of at least one Greece star, Karagounis.