The Round of 16 matchup between Costa Rica and Greece is easily the most unexpected game of the 2014 World Cup; both countries were favored to finish last in their respective groups. Not counting the current tournament, these two teams have made the 32 team field a combined five times. Costa Rica had scored twelve goals in their three appearances, while the Greeks had only scored two, both coming in 2010.
The Greeks equaled that total in their thrilling, last-second upset over the Ivory Coast, and left the entire world doing their best Vin Scully impression. The victory allowed them to claim second place in Group C despite a scoreless draw against Japan and a 3-0 loss to Colombia. Costa Rica, on the other hand, won Group D handily against three former world champions. They defeated Uruguay and Italy in impressive fashion before drawing with England in a game in which both teams already knew their fate.
Which Greece team will show up?
In their first two games of the tournament, the Greeks looked hopeless. They began the tournament getting thrashed by Colombia 3-0, a game in which the Greeks never threatened. In their tie with Japan, midfielder Kostas Katsouranis was sent off in the 38th minute. They hunkered down in typical Greek fashion and earned a point. With the Greeks needing a win to advance, and Les Elephantes needing only a draw, no one gave the Greeks much of a chance.
The Greeks are like my Aunt Judy’s cooking. They have very little skill, and they’re always less than impressive. Just when you thought they could do nothing but crash and burn, somehow, someway, they find a way to get a positive result (in my Aunt Judy’s case, her chicken parm) when they really need it, regardless of how ugly it looks.
Can Costa Rica Break Through the Greek Defense?
Greece’s strength lies in their discipline and their ability to defend. Led by Borussia Dortmund center back Sokratis Papastathopoulus, the Greeks shut out their opponents in eight of ten qualifying matches, and are very used to packing it in, and picking their spots to attack. Now that they find themselves in the knockout round, Greece will have even less motivation to expose themselves, and would not be opposed to a scoreless draw leading to a penalty shootout.
It will be up to Los Ticos to break the Greeks down. Costa Rica surprised Uruguay and Italy by outlasting them physically and dominating the run of play in the second halves of both games (though Italy’s fatigue was likely influenced by its previous game in scalding hot Manaus). Los Ticos will find it much more difficult to break down a Greek side who will have eight, nine, and even ten men behind the ball at times. It will be up to captain Brian Ruiz and Arsenal wunderkind Joel Campbell to finish off their chances, and finally stick a fork in the Greek “gyros.”