Costa Rica are through to the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup for the first time, after edging Greece out on penalties in Recife.
The fairytale goes on for Jorge Luis Pinto’s men who were denied in the last minute of normal time when Sokratis Papastathopoulos cancelled out Bryan Ruiz’s earlier effort, but prevailed in the shootout with five successful kicks from five.
They will be looking to add the Netherlands to their ever-growing list of scalps, after Louis van Gaal’s side came from behind to snatch a 2-1 victory against Mexico in the dying moments at Estadio Castelao.
Giovani dos Santos put the Mexicans in front early in the second half, before Wesley Sneijder equalised with two minutes remaining and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar won it in stoppage-time from the penalty spot.
Greece had enjoyed the majority of play at Arena Pernambuco, but fell behind seven minutes into the second half. Ruiz received the ball from Christian Bolanos on the edge of the area, and cleverly swept the ball into the far corner leaving Orestis Karnezis wrong-footed.
The Central Americans were then denied a penalty when referee Ben Williams failed to spot Vasilis Torisidis’ blatant handball from a deep cross into the area, and they were made to rue that decision 10 minutes later when Oscar Duarte was shown a second yellow card for tripping Jose Holebas.
Keylor Navas heroics
With the extra-man advantage, the Greeks plucked away and equalised in the first minute of stoppage-time with defender Papastathopoulos bundling the ball home after Theofanis Gekas’ initial effort was well saved by Keylor Navas.
The Levante keeper performed heroics in extra-time though when he brilliantly denied Dimitris Salpingidis and Kostas Mitroglou as the game raced towards penalties.
Starting with Celso Borges, seven in a row were successful before Nevas stretched his trailing arm to keep out Gekas’ powerful kick. Michael Umana needed no second invitation, as he shot high into the net to send his country through for their first appearance in the last eight.
It may be unchartered territory for them but having already beaten Uruguay and Italy, they will definitely fancy their chances against the Netherlands, who were on the brink of elimination in Fortaleza before two of the old guard came up trumps for them.
They fell behind three minutes into the second half, with dos Santos drilling the bouncing ball home past the reach of Jasper Cillesen from 20 yards.
That looked like it could be enough to take the Mexicans through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 1986, and break the curse of the last 16 that has hung over them ever since their home tournament.
But the marvellous Guillermo Ochoa was finally beaten with just two minutes of the 90 to play, as substitute Huntelaar cushioned Arjen Robben’s corner into the path of Sneijder who smashed the ball home on the half-volley.
The drama was not over though as four minutes into stoppage-time, captain Rafael Marquez tripped Robben in the area though the winger did demonstrate his trademark theatrics on his way down.
Referee Pedro Proenca pointed to the spot, and Huntelaar was probably the coolest man in Fortaleza, as he sent Ochoa the wrong way to break Mexican hearts.
Although it was very harsh on Miguel Herrera’s men, they certainly played a very good part in these finals despite all of the traumas they went through during qualifying.
Looking forward, we can anticipate a David and Goliath battle in the last eight on Saturday. The Netherlands will be favourites, but they know not to underestimate this year’s surprise package as Costa Rica are capable of upsetting anyone.
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