Ten-man Costa Rica downed Greece 5-3 on penalty kicks on Sunday night after a 1-1 draw thanks to a Michael Umana penalty in the shootout.
Keylor Navas saved Theofanis Gekas to give Umana the opportunity to win, and Umana took full advantage to lead Costa Rica into a quarterfinal against the Netherlands. It’s the first quarterfinal appearance ever for Los Ticos and it capped a grim match.
Bryan Ruiz and Sokratis Papastathopolous traded goals in a slog that saw Oscar Duarte sent off in the 66th minute. To call this match soporific would be insulting to the makers of Ambien — in fact, it was stunningly awful, and referee Benjamin Williams lost control of it to boot.
Now, there are three major forms of classical Greek drama, but this article is only concerned with two: Greek comedy and Greek tragedy. We’ve seen both at this World Cup.
For example, it was a Greek tragedy that Cote d’Ivoire were ejected from this World Cup on a very late, exceedingly dubious penalty, converted by Georgios Samaras. That meant not only that Les Elephants were again denied a place in the knockout round, but that the rest of us were condemned to watching Greece play soccer again. And, it was high comedy when the Greeks stumbled and bumbled through this match, unable to get a foothold until Duarte was sent off in the 66th minute.
But joke was almost on Costa Rica. Los Ticos had been the darlings of the tournament after winning a group with three former champions and, well, them. Most observers of the CONCACAF region had credited them with being difficult to play at Saprissa, but not much more than that. The emergence of Joel Campbell and Keylor Navas as legitimate players wasn’t unexpected — the former is on Arsenal’s payroll, the latter stars in La Liga — but it was a shock that they had enough talent around them to handle the likes of Uruguay, Italy and England.
Apparently, Ticos’ Kryptonite was boredom, for while the Greeks huffed and plodded, they also started to make far more use of midfield, and gradually won a war of attrition. The best chance of the first half fell to Dimitrios Salpingidis, who latched on to a fine cross from Jose Holebas that left the Costa Rican backline for dead — only to see Navas block the shot away. On the other side of the coin, only Campbell, who plies his trade with Greek side Olympiakos despite being on Arsenal’s books, looked like scoring for much of the first half.
So it was delightful in the second half when Bryan Ruiz popped up unmarked at the edge of the area to receive Bolanos’ pass and side-foot it past Orestis Karnezis. The so-called “missile defender” didn’t even move on the shot, perhaps lulled into the same torpor as the television audience worldwide.
And that was when the game finally sputtered to something approaching life. Vasilis Torosidis was then very lucky to get away with a blatant handball just moments later, Australian referee Williams somehow missing the obvious. But Williams had a further role to play; when the Ticos protested venomously from the bench, he walked over and carded Oscar Granados. Granados has yet to play in a match here, so this appears to be the first instance of carding a man who has little to no connection to the action on the field at this World Cup.
Then, when Duarte made a rash tackle on Holebas, Williams sent him off. It was a silly foul, and Duarte was on a card — but it started a torrent of cards, with Williams quickly looking like a man who had lost control of the plot. Navas was called into action to make a series of saves, and as it became apparent that despite having a numerical advantage that they were going to struggle to score, the Greeks descended into some very theatrical bickering and bellyaching.
But when Papastathopoulos scored deep into second-half stoppage time, latching on to a rebound conceded by Navas to send the game into extra time, all was forgiven on that sideline — save perhaps by the manager, Fernando Santos. Unbelievably, Williams would send him off after the game ended.
Greece dominated the extra time period, a reflection more of their numerical advantage than any particular skill. There was a late 5-on-2 break — created when a Greek and Costa Rican player appeared to come to blows — that Lazaros Christodoulopoulos shot right at Navas. And Navas was indeed kept busy. But this was more on the comedic side than the tragic — unless of course, you think of the poor hacks being paid to watch this.
But in the shootout, Costa Rica rose. They did not miss a kick or a trick and fully deserved their win. Theatrical? Of course. Entertaining? Not unless you enjoy summer stock. In the end, Los Ticos will be glad to have put this Greek drama behind them. Unfortunately for them, they face a team that has a theatrical form of its own.
As all observers of Arjen Robben know, it’s called “diving.”