World Cup Round of 16 | Recife | Sun 29 Jun | 9pm
The tie of the roun… OK, it’s Costa Rica-Greece.
COSTA RICA GEAR
Proof that this will go down as the single greatest World Cup finals in living memory arrived in the final game of Group C, when Greece beat Ivory Coast to reach the last 16 at the Africans' expense with a penalty so deep into that game that it was almost in this one. The sight of a Greece team attacking their opponents with reckless abandon confirmed there must be something in the air over in Brazil.
Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised. Despite being drawn in the same group as Colombia and Ivory Coast, the 2004 Euro champions arrived with hopes of reaching the last 16, even if no-one outside of Greece agreed. "It is a very open group," said coach Fernando Santos before a ball had been kicked. "You might say that Colombia has a 55% edge over the rest, with the other teams at 45%."
And so it proved. The Greeks illustrated their resilience by recovering from a 3-0 defeat in the opening game against those Colombians to scrape through at the very death – Giorgos Samaras' penalty (his first goal in 1,478 minutes) edging them onto four points, enough to steal second place.
Proof that there really must be something in the Brazilian air has come in the form of Costa Rica, a team written off before the tournament as being already deceased in the Group of Death.
Their success has been based on a well-schooled 4-4-2 formation designed to soak up pressure before countering swiftly and effectively, and based on the fact that both Uruguay and Italy underestimated them, even if they claim otherwise.
No longer an unknown quantity and now slight favourites here, the hunters have become the hunted. And after the glamour of facing three World Cup winners in their group games, Costa Rica’s greatest danger could come from taking Greece a little lightly. Despite being the least attractive of the last 16 games, this could still be oddly fascinating.
What the local media say
Excitable Costa Rican website Teletica is allowing itself to dream, stating that statistically speaking, the Ticos have a "59% chance to beat Greece in the second round". Furthermore, those same stats have Costa Rica as the seventh most likely team to win this World Cup, behind Brazil, Germany, Argentina, France, Holland and Colombia.
The online Ekathimerini.com believes Greece deserve their place among the finest 16 teams on earth. “What luck almost deprived Greece of this game, through injuries and shots stopped by the bars and posts, the Greeks have earned with their passion and never-say-die approach,” it said.
Key battle Celso Borges vs Giorgos Karagounis
Joel Campbell will get more headlines (and he's been involved in 2 of CR's 4 goals so far, 1 goal, 1 assist), but the defensive solidity on which Jorge Luis Pinto's team is built owes much to the discipline and drive of the AIK midfielder. Borges protects the back four when Costa Rica sit deep, allowing them the platform to counter so effectively. Regularly prominent in the passing and ball recovery stats, he is the beat at the Ticos' heart. In Karagounis, Borges will meet a midfielder of equal influence. Despite his age, the 37-year old remains the key spark for the Greeks – providing his legs hold out. If they don’t, 34-year-old Kostas Katsouranis may get the nod.
Facts and figures
- The last team from CONCACAF to go further than the last 16 at the World Cup are the USA in 2002.
- Greece’s 7 wins at major tournaments have never been by more than 1 clear goal (four 1-0 and three 2-1 wins).
- None of Costa Rica’s 4 goals at this World Cup have been scored before the 44th minute. Each of Greece’s 4 goals in World Cup history have been scored from the 42nd minute onwards.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Though Greece specialise in strangling hope, Costa Rica's heart-warming run could and should continue. 2-1.