10-man Costa Rica advances on penalties, eliminates Greece after 1-1 draw

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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.

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Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored the equalizer in second-half injury time, but it wasn’t enough for Greece.

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.

LINEUPS:

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′

SHOOTOUT:

Costa Rica: Borges, make; Ruiz, make; Gonzalez, make; Campbell, make; Umana, make.

Greece: Mitroglou, make; Christodoulopoulos, make; Holebas, make; Gekas, saved.

Group C wide open as Denmark, Australia settle for draw

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Denmark and Australia settled for a 1-1 draw on Thursday, as this exciting Group C affair had nothing to separate the two nations at the end of 90 minutes.

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As it stands, the Danes lead the group with four points, while Australia earned its first point of the World Cup.

France will meet Peru later on Thursday, with Les Bleus having won its first match and Peru having suffered defeat to Denmark.

The Danes broke through after seven minutes when Nicolai Jørgensen picked out a perfect back-heel pass to Christian Eriksen at the top of the box, before the Tottenham Hotspur attacker volleyed home for a 1-0 lead.

Jørgensen nearly doubled the Denmark advantage in the 24th minute when the 27-year-old had an open header from close range that skewed just wide of the target.

Australia worked its way into the match following the opener, and were awarded a penalty kick in the 37th minute after VAR Mark Geiger altered an initial decision for a handball inside the box.

Mile Jedinak converted the spot kick to level the match at 1-1, giving the Socceroos life.

A dangerous free kick four minutes later almost gave Denmark the lead once again, however, Eriksen couldn’t get a crucial touch on the ball to knock it over the goal line before Ryan collected.

The second half continued with lightning pace from both sides, and Aaron Mooy‘s 71st minute blast came inches away from giving Australia an improbable lead.

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The two nations will conclude Group C play on June 26, as Denmark faces France and Australia takes on CONMEBOL side Peru.

Video: VAR awards Australia penalty, before Jedinak converts

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The Socceroos battled admirably in the latter stages of the first half, and Australia was rewarded for their efforts.

Australia has leveled the match at 1-1 after a Mile Jedinak penalty kick cancelled out Christian Eriksen’s stunning opener in the seventh minute.

After an initial decision to play on by the head referee, VAR Mark Geiger opted to award a penalty kick to the Aussies after Yussuf Poulsen was caught with his hand away from his body on a Mathew Leckie header.

Poulsen was also shown a yellow card for the infraction, which rules him out for Denmark’s group-stage finale against France.

Video: Eriksen volley has Denmark ahead inside 10 minutes

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Denmark is well on its way to another three points on Thursday, and this time it’s Christian Eriksen who has finally broken through at the World Cup.

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Eriksen put the Danes in front in the seventh minute after a tremendous volley that gave Australia goalkeeper Maty Ryan no chance at keeping it out.

After a sloppy turnover in their own half, Australia could only watch as the ball fell to Nicolai Jørgensen, who cleverly back-heeled to Eriksen at the top of the box.

The Danes pulled off a 1-0 victory in their first Group C match against Peru, while Australia fell 2-1 to France.

Croatia coach says “we have nothing to lose” against Argentina

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Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic chose his words wisely when discussing their final Group D opponent, Argentina, but his side won’t be backing down when they take on Lionel Messi and Co.

[ MORE: Spain gets win after Iran equalizer called off by replay ]

With three points already in the bag for the European nation, Croatia currently sits atop their group, however, Dalic recognizes the task that lies in front of him and his team on Thursday.

“I didn’t say that Argentina was the easiest opponent,” Dalic said. “I said that this was the easiest game for us. We have nothing to lose. We are playing against one of the best.”

Croatia does have the benefit of having won its first match in group play, which has given the side a decided enthusiasm heading into the meeting.

For Ivan Rakitic — who plays at Barcelona with Messi — he believes there isn’t much he or anyone on his team can say or do to further prepare themselves for the Albiceleste.

“What can I tell them that they don’t know?” Rakitic said. “The world knows. Messi is one of the best players in the world. He will have his moments, clearly. It is up to us to stop him, to play the right way against him, and to enjoy the match and play our best.

“It’s a beautiful thing to play against one of the best teams in the world. We are especially motivated.”

In four all-time meetings, Argentina leads 2-1-1 against Croatia, including a 1-0 victory during the 1998 World Cup in France.

The two teams last met in 2014 following Argentina’s World Cup final defeat to Germany, with Messi and Co. earning a 2-1 victory over Croatia.