Miles of red-clad bodies again enveloped main streets throughout Costa Rica. Just like last weekend, the president waved down upon the swelling crowd at Fuente de Hispanidad. Seemingly the entire population of this tiny country had taken to the streets Sunday to celebrate the national team’s latest World Cup victory.
These boisterous street-side celebrations have not only become a trend over the past two weeks, they’ve now become part of history. For the first time ever, Costa Rica is advancing to the Cup’s quarterfinals.
La Sele was well-represented with thousands of vocal fans watching their 5-3 shootout win over Greece, despite being undermanned on the field. Down to 10 men after defender Oscar Duarte was expelled with a second yellow card (an automatic red) in the 66th minute, Costa Rica let a 1-0 lead slip away at the last minute of regulation before holding off the Greek side in both extra time periods.
The Ticos’ hero was goal keeper Keylor Navas, who made plenty of key saves during regulation. Though Navas let the first three penalty kicks through, he stuffed Greece’s Theofanis Gekas with a perfectly timed dive to his right on the fourth. That stop by the man voted as the best goalie in Spain’s La Liga decided the match as all five Costa Rican shooters scored.
“Obviously being a man down made a difference, but we never gave up,” said Navas in a press conference after the game in Recife. “As for my save at the end, I can’t remember what was going through my mind. All I did was react and keep it out.”
Officials became a central part of the game, as they have too often in Brazil, and doled out six yellow cards to Costa Rica. Duarte’s red forced coach Jorge Luis Pinto to retreat his midfielders so they could help out Navas on the backend. But after Navas deflected an attempt in stoppage time, his defenders were too few and too slow to recover as Greece’s Socratis Papastathopoulos rebounded with the tying score.
Earlier in the 52nd minute, captain Bryan Ruiz’s goal gave his side the initial lead that put an end to a sloppy and forgettable first half.
On the same section of the Cup bracket, the Netherlands came back to beat Mexico with two late goals Sunday. Trailing 1-0, the Dutch scored the equalizer at the 88th minute and then capitalized on a penalty kick four minutes into stoppage time to put the dagger to Mexico’s heart. Now instead of playing their traditional rival, Costa Rica meets up with a Dutch side that had looked very impressive up to Sunday.
As the dream run continues for another week, depth still remains a worry going forward. The Ticos entered World Cup play with probable starters Bryan Oviedo and Álvaro Saborío sidelined due to injuries. Now after playing more than 120 minutes Sunday, heavy-legged players will take advantage of every day of rest they can get until Saturday’s showdown with the Dutch.
And even after they’ve made history as the soccer-obsessed nation’s most successful World Cup team, Pinto said his squad isn’t going to lay around being satisfied to finish in the top eight.
“I’ll say it again – we’re delighted and we’d like to dedicate this win to all the people of Costa Rica,” Pinto said. “We respect the Netherlands, just as we respect all our rivals, but the story goes on, and we’re hungry for more.”