RECIFE, Brazil, June 30 (IANS): Reduced to 10 men for some 60 minutes of the match, Costa Rica beat Greece 5-3 (1-1) on penalties here Sunday to enter World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in the country's history.
Costa Rica, known as the Ticos, were 5 on 5 in penalty kicks while Greek veteran striker Theofanis Gekas' fourth round effort was denied by keeper Keilor Navas, reports Xinhua.
"It is a huge victory in the history of Costa Rica," said coach Jorge Luis Pinto.
"Navas is one of the best goal keepers in the world and we have strong faith in him."
"I do not feel like talking about luck or lack of luck. I think Costa Rica won a spectacular match," said Fernando Santos, the coach of Greece after the match.
"It is a sad moment for us because we wanted to continue to write the story and continue to make the Greek people happy. But it will not be possible," said Santos, who was sent off before the penalty shootout for apparently arguing with the referee.
The first half was dull and slow and full of turnovers with lackluster performance from both sides. The Arena Pemambuco was surrounded by boos from the stands when the referee Benjamin Willianms blew the whistle to end the first half. But the second was filled with drama.
"In the first 10 to 15 minutes the Costa Rica team played better than us. They are quicker and had more ball possession. They had better control of the match. But after 15 minutes the match was more balanced. We had more attacks and the Costa Rican team counter-attacked often. We finished the first half strong," Santos said.
The stalemate was broken 52 minutes into the match. The Ticos skipper Bryan Ruiz met a low cross from Christian Bolanos at the edge of the box. The 28-year-old, who was on loan in PSV Eindhoven from English Championship club Fulham, failed to shoot with his full strength but the ball simply dribbled into the side netting with Greek keeper Orestis Karnezis misjudging the trajectory of the ball and not making a save.
It was the second goal for Ruiz in the tournament as he also scored the winner in last Friday's 1-0 victory against Italy, also here in Recife.
The Ticos were reduced to ten men in the 66th minute. Defender Oscar Duarte received his second booking of the match after a careless tackle on Cholevas.
Costa Rica were under great pressure for the following 30 minutes. And the Greeks managed to score in injury time again.
Central defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund, who stayed up front after a late run into the box, nodded down a lofted ball to second half substitute Gekas. The latter's powerful shot was denied by Navas but Papastathopoulos followed up and lashed home the rebounded ball.
The Greeks could have finished the match in regular time but Konstantinos Mitroglou's header from close range was palmed away by Navas.
After the 90-minute of play ended at 1-1, neither team managed to score again in extra time and had to decide the match through penalty kicks. The 26-year-old Mitroglou missed another chance in the dying minutes of the extra time as his close range snap shot was again stopped by Navas.
"Their goalie did fantastic defence. We did not quite well use 30 minutes of extra time. The players are anxious to score a goal but we did not pass the ball enough," said Santos.
It is the fourth time for Los Ticos to compete in the World Cup finals. They enjoyed a wonderful debut in 1994 when they, led by the vast-experienced coach Bora Milutinovic, beat Sweden and Scotland to reach the knockout round but failed to make it to the quarterfinal after they lost to Czechoslovakia. In 2002 and 2006 World Cups Costa Rico never managed to emerge from the group stage.
In the quarterfinals, Costa Rica will face the Netherlands who rallied to beat Mexico in Fortaleza Sunday.
"The Netherlands is a world class team but we always want to win. We are confident and we will continue to fight," said an ambitious Pinto.