34-year-old Theofanis Gekas has been a true goalscorer wherever he’s gone, but Keylor Navas kept him out at the end of the penalty shootout and sent Costa Rica through to its first-ever World Cup quarterfinals berth.
In a game short on quality but high on drama, Greece equalized in injury time to extend the game, but could not find the winner in added time and they paid in the penalty shootout.
Bryan Ruiz unlocked the stout Greek defense just after halftime, but Oscar Duarte was sent off with a second yellow-card offense 15 minutes later, and they looked to hold on for dear life.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos leveled in added time, but the Greeks could not make the most of their opportunities in the extra half-hour. Navas, who had been stellar all match, made a number of key saves to keep the score level and made a spectacular save in the shootout to allow the CONCACAF side to advance.
Costa Rica, the first CONCACAF side to make the quarterfinals this World Cup, will take on the Netherlands in the quarterfinals round.
The first half was listless, as Greece covered the passing lanes in their defense half superbly, and as a result Costa Rica found absolutely nothing going forward.
Altogether in the first half, Costa Rica mustered just three meager shots on goal, none of which found the target, and they failed to build any legitimate chances, botching a pair of breakaways for their only opportunities.
On the other side, the Greeks were patient in front of goal, not creating much but not wasting anything either. They found their best opportunity in the 36th minute, when a cross from Jose Cholevas found a streaking Dimitris Salpigidis, and the 32-year-old winger slid in to connect. The great ball was only bested by a fantastic reflex save by Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas to keep the score level.
It took a little while for Costa Rica to find their legs in the second half, managing just 11 passes in the first five minutes, but they finally got a chance six minutes after the break, and Bryan Ruiz stunned the Greeks.
Christian Bolaños worked the ball on the left of the penalty area, and crossed along the ground to Ruiz at the top of the box. Ruiz hit a slow-roller along the ground, but with Orestis Karnezis on the wrong foot, he could only watch as the ball slid into the far corner for the Costa Rican lead.
The Greeks got a break when, just a minute after the goal, they should have conceded a penalty had the referee not missed a handball in the box. A Costa Rican cross targeting a sliding Bolaños was headed away valiantly by Vasileios Torosidis – or so it appeared at first. Replays showed Torosidis handed the ball in the box.
The Costa Rican bench was incensed at the miss, and the referee was forced to yellow card a substitute Oscar Granados on the bench for dissent.
Greece looked to get back into the game with lots of possession and an extra striker in Kostas Mitroglou, but it looked tough for Greece until the game changed.
In the 66th minute, Oscar Duarte scythed down Jose Holebas and duly earned his second yellow card for a reactive foul. Things immediately changed, and it looked that Greece may take advantage of a Costa Rican side about to lose their heads.
The Greeks – not entirely known for their creative ability – began to make some moves. They got a major opportunity in the 71st minute when Giorgis Samaras looked to pick out one of three open attackers in the box, but Giancarlo Gonzalez was there to slam on the breaks by cutting out the cross. It would come right back at them as Samaras cut back in a lofted cross that looked destined for the head of substitute Theofanis Gekas, but Navas got there first to scramble the ball to safety.
They would press and press, and finally earn the equalizer a minute into added time. Samaras lumped a ball into the box, and as it ping-ponged between blue shirts, it fell to Gekas who ripped a howitzer at Navas. The Costa Rican stopper kept it out, but the rebound fell right to defender Papastathopoulos, and he slammed his shot into the ground, causing it to jump over a sprawled-out Navas and in.
The Greeks nearly had a winner as Mitroglou headed one destined for the underside of the bar but Navas leaped to tip it over, coming down hard on his right shoulder.
As the game went into extra time, the Costa Ricans looked to be struggling. Greece pummeled the attacking third in the opening half of extra time, pumping balls into the box and causing the Costa Ricans to defend heroically. Tired legs coursed through the pitch, and the second half of extra time proved the same as the first.
Greece botched a massive 5-on-2 break in the 113th minute, as Mitroglou found Christodoulopoulos, but his powerful shot went right at Navas who kept it out. Mitroglou then had his own chance in added time of the second period, but with the goal gaping, he scuffed the shot at Navas who saved.
The Greeks were hoping to advance to the quarterfinals having scored only three regulation goals, but instead Costa Rica will take on the Netherlands in the first set matchup of the next round.
Costa Rica: Navas; Gonzalez, Duarte, Gamboa (Acosta 77′), Umaña, Diaz; Borges, Bolanos (Brenes 83′), Tejeda (Cubera 66′); Ruiz; Campbell.
Goals – Ruiz 51′
Discipline – Duarte (second yellow) 66′
Greece: Karnezis, Maniatis (Katsouranis 78′), Manolas, Samaras, Karagounis, Salpingidis (Gekas 69′), Torosidis, Lazaros, Sokratis, Cholevas, Samaris (Mitroglou 58′).
Goals – Papastathopoulos 90+1′
Costa Rica: Borges, make; Ruiz, make; Gonzalez, make; Campbell, make; Umana, make.
Greece: Mitroglou, make; Christodoulopoulos, make; Holebas, make; Gekas, saved.