World Cup: Navas’s penalty heroics continue fairytale campaign for Costa Rica

COSTA RICA 1 GREECE 1
Costa Rica win 5-3 on penalties

GOALKEEPER Keylor Navas enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a stunning save to keep out veteran striker Theofanis Gekas’s penalty, as Costa Rica won a high-class shoot-out to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

The Central American minnows, ranked 28th in the world, laboured to a draw after playing the final 54 minutes with 10 men in the energy-sapping heat of Recife.

Yet they scored all five penalties and advanced when Navas clawed away 34-year-old Gekas’s spot-kick with a strong left hand.

Having defied their underdog status to finish top of a group with three former World Cup winners, Costa Rica found Greece more stubborn opposition than they had encountered previously in Brazil.

Christian Bolanos’s wayward early effort was all they had to show for a first-half performance that lacked endeavour. And it was Greece who went closest, but Dimitris Salpingidis’s close-range volley was brilliantly blocked by the legs of goalkeeper Navas.

Costa Rica made the breakthrough seven minutes into the second half when Brian Ruiz rolled in a low effort from the edge of the box. But on 66 minutes the tide turned when Oscar Duarte was sent off, picking up his second booking for a mistimed tackle on Jose Holebas.

Greece’s pursuit of an equaliser was tentative, but they broke Costa Rica’s resistance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time and had a further chance to win it before extra time.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos fired in his first ever goal for Greece after Navas had blocked substitute Theofanis Gekas’s initial shot on the turn. But Navas immediately redeemed himself by pushing Kostas Mitroglu’s powerful header over the crossbar to extend the tie for a further 30 minutes.

Costa Rica, feeling their man disadvantage, plodded through extra time. But Greece, who only scored two goals in the group stage, failed to create clear a cut opportunity until Navas raced from his line to block Mitroglu’s strike in the dying seconds.

Then the Levante stopper took centre stage to emerge as the hero for Costa Rica.