Costa Rica beat Greece 5-3 on penalties to make last eight
Costa Rica's fairy-tale run continues as they qualify for quarter-finals for the first time
ROUND OF 16
COSTA RICA 1
(Bryan Ruiz 52)
(Sokratis Papastathopoulos 90+1)
- Costa Rica win 5-3 on penalties)
One inch made the difference. One inch and Keylor Navas made history for his country.
He dived to his right, raised a hand and was touched by greatness.
Costa Rica's heroic goalkeeper acrobatically palmed away Theofanis Gekas' penalty to allow his country to defy all the odds, every statistic, and logic itself, to leave a small country walking tall.
The Costa Ricans strut among giants after beating Greece 5-3 in the penalty shootout after the Round-of-16 endurance test ended 1-1 after extra time this morning (Singapore time).
The human wall of Navas, who kept Costa Rica's fading, dying hopes alive throughout the game, held a hand up to the gods to join his nation's immortals.
There might be better saves at this tournament, but none will be as spellbinding.
Michael Umana then stepped up, the coolest man in Recife, to take Costa Rica one step beyond.
Penalties seemed the cruellest way to make history. Neither side had reached the quarter-finals before. Five kicks to distinguish dreams from despair bordered on the sadistic.
But Costa Rica prevailed. They took a small step into the next round and one giant leap for the euphoric Central American nation.
The endearing, entertaining Ticos are surfing a wave of momentum that's likely to come to a crashing halt against Holland, but what a ride it's proving to be.
They are ranked lower than Scotland. Their population is smaller than Singapore's. They were here to make up the numbers, but their numbers now seem made up; the stuff of dreams.
Some 4.5 million Costa Ricans were on the streets partying this morning, celebrating not only the victory, but also the manner of the achievement.
Uruguay, Italy and now Greece have all been beaten by positive performances. No buses, just tactical brilliance and an indomitable spirit allowed Jorge Luis Pinto's marvellous men to prevail.
The Greeks' defensive approach failed to contain them. Playing out much of the second half a man down didn't inhibit them. Their play is invigorating; their story irresistible.
Fernando Santos' tactical tinkering irritated the Ticos almost as much as the Recife crowd.
He has earned a nation's gratitude for guiding the Greeks into the knockout stages for the first time. But the suggestion that the Hellas now adopt a more heroic, attacking style sounds awfully like England's new, improved "positives"; straws are being clutched.
Greek football is no sexier, just smarter. They're not so much bus drivers as they are a quiver of coiled cobras, waiting in the shadows for the appropriate moment to strike.
With the Greeks playing Georgios Samaras as a single spearhead, the Ticos were encouraged to send a centre back further forward, along with fullbacks Cristian Gamboa and Junior Diaz.
In such rare moments, Greece broke quickly, releasing Dimitrios Salpingidis and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos to support the tireless Samaras.
The move almost paid off in the 37th minute when Salpingidis sprang clear, but his volley was spectacularly saved by Navas, the first of so many.
Unfortunately, his opposite number failed to cover himself in glory in the second half.
Ruiz's strike barely qualified as such. His goal was a golf putt, rolled across the green before plopping in.
Celso Bolanos slipped the ball across the edge of the box into Ruiz's path, and the striker, sent out on loan by Fulham to PSV Eindhoven, connected sweetly.
But the ball was caressed with his instep, not cannoned, and never left the turf, rolling and bobbling all the way into the bottom corner from a full 20 metres.
Orestis Karnezis never moved. His feet turned to clay. Even if the Greek goalkeeper was unsighted, he had time to readjust, move to his left, pack his case, check his flight details, collect his boarding pass, and still make a reasonably routine save.
If the soft goal knocked the stuffing out of Greece, it killed their soak-and-counter tactics, forcing Santos to bring on Kostas Mitroglou and switch to a 4-4-2 formation.
Oscar Duarte handed the Greeks an undeserved initiative by committing a second silly foul to leave his teammates prematurely in the 65th minute.
Still, the Costa Ricans were just four minutes away from triumph. But the Greeks seldom succumb and Sokratis Papastathopoulos sent a stake through Central American hearts when he stabbed in the late equaliser.
Extra time couldn't separate them.
Tempers frayed at the final whistle. Santos was sent to the stands for arguing with officials.
Pandemonium reigned. Cool heads were needed.
Fortunately, Navas was on hand to steer them into history.
"Last night, I dreamed this, it seems untrue. I was relaxed because I dreamed it. I dreamed it but I didn’t tell anyone. I felt very confident. This is for my family. It’s for my colleagues who got injured before coming here. They’re not with us, but they gave us a hand on the pitch."
- Costa Rica’s Michael Umana, who scored the fifth penalty, which sent his team into the quarter-finals.