Costa Rica’s World Cup journey will continue into new territory, led by the man at the back.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas made several crucial saves to send Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of the soccer tournament for the first time. Navas saved a shot from Konstantinos Mitroglou in the final seconds yesterday before stopping Theofanis Gekas’s penalty in the shootout after the match finished 1-1.
“Navas was the main protagonist,” Greek coach Fernando Santos said after his last match in charge of the European team. “He avoided three or four goals. Two of them were very good moments. Obviously he has to be congratulated. If it wasn’t for that, the result would have been different.”
The teams finished extra time tied at 1-1, with a last-minute goal from Sokratis Papastathopoulos in regulation time evening the match after Bryan Ruiz’s opener. While Los Ticos made all their penalties, Navas stopped Gekas’s attempt and the Central Americans advanced 5-3 in Recife, Brazil. They’ll meet the Netherlands in Salvador on July 5.
Following the final whistle, thousands took to the streets in Costa Rica, with the Rotonda de la Hispanidad roundabout in the capital San Jose the major focus of celebration.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis to posted a picture on Twitter of himself surrounded by a group wearing the country’s red, white and blue colors.
“To the entire people in Costa Rica, those at home and those on the streets, this is for you,” the team’s Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto told reporters after the game. “We will continue fighting. We are ambitious, we want to grow and move forward.”
The match itself was one of the poorest of the competition, with Costa Rica having to play a man down for 55 minutes after Oscar Duarte was sent off. Although the Greeks started to increase the pressure,they couldn’t beat Navas.
Costa Rica, ranked 28th in the world, started the tournament as an underdog to get out of the group stage, where it bettered three former World Cup winners: England, Italy and Uruguay. It qualified for the second round after the first two games following a 1-0 win over Italy and finished top of the group.
Those matches were watched by as many as 7,000 supporters. By kickoff against Greece, most had gone home as they hadn’t planned for the team to progress.
Hundreds of supporters were to travel to Recife on a chartered Boeing 747 but were left disappointed when the jet didn’t get permission to fly to Brazil in time.
Carlos Alberto Guzman, a 27-year-old university professor, and his friend Daniel Leiba, 26, a medical doctor, did make it. Their journey to Recife on Brazil’s northeast coast took 36 hours, and included layovers in Bogota and Sao Paulo. They plan to stay until the final at a cost of $7,000 each.
“It’s very nice to know that we are in the eye of hurricane,” said Guzman, wearing the team’s red shirt and chonete hat, worn by the country’s coffee growers. “People suddenly want to know where we are from. We’re such a small country we literally know the players. They’re friends and family. It’s great for Costa Rica.”
Situated between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, the country is known for rain forests. It has a population of 4.8 million and a gross domestic product of about $45 billion in 2012, according to the World Bank.
Brazilians in the crowd of 41,242 took to Costa Rica, cheering “ole” every time the team completed a pass at the start of the game, and singing “Ticos,” in homage to the team’s nickname.
Ruiz scored his second goal of the World Cup with only his third shot of the tournament when he rolled the ball past a static Orestis Karnezis in goal for Greece. The match turned when Duarte received a second yellow card in the 65th minute and Greece pinned Costa Rica back.
Just after the 90th minute, Papastathopoulos hit a rebound when Navas had blocked from Gekas. Greece failed to take advantage of its extra man and couldn’t beat Navas again.
His save off Gekas during the shootout set up Michael Umana to score the winning penalty, sparking the Costa Rican bench and players to rush to the goal.
Navas, who was named man of the match, dedicated the win to his family,
“In such a beautiful sport as football I try to make my kids happy so when they look back they can see a father that did good things for his country,” Navas said.