Who’d have thought before the tournament started that this tie would be the winners of Group D against the runners-up of Group C in the last 16?
Though Sunday’s match features two surprising qualifiers, it rather sums up what World Cup 2014 has been all about—surprises.
Costa Rica and Greece are good value for their respective places in the round of 16, though, and both sides will now fancy their chances of going one better and reaching the quarter-finals.
Venue: Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Date: Sunday 29 June
Time: 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET
TV Info: ITV1 (U.K.)/ESPN (U.S.)
Costa Rica on the Brink of History
When Group D’s competitors were announced back in December, almost everyone predicted that the winners would be England, Italy or Uruguay—no one gave Costa Rica a look.
However, Jorge Luis Pinto had other ideas, and after recording two famous victories against Uruguay and Italy together with a goalless draw with England, the Costa Ricans deservedly booked their place in the knockout stage.
It’s rather unchartered territory for Costa Rica, having only progressed beyond the group stage once, but a best-ever performance awaits if they can find a way past Greece.
The Greeks sneaked their way into the last 16 thanks to Georgios Samaras’ last-gasp penalty against the Ivory Coast, and their habit of sneaking victories is something that Costa Rica are very aware of.
Speaking with FIFA.com, Costa Rica’s technical assistant, Luis Marin, said that scoring the opening goal of the game is incredibly important against a stubborn nation like Greece:
It's crucial for us to score early in the game, especially as Greece are known to tighten up at the back once they score. But we know it's going to be a tough game all round. Although they lost to Colombia 3-0, the goals they conceded were down to simple mistakes. Greece are also potent on the counter-attack.
Though Marin is aware of just how efficient Greece’s defence can be, his own are very useful, too.
The Costa Ricans are yet to concede a goal in open play, having kept clean sheets against Italy and England after Edinson Cavani’s penalty sprung them into life in their opening game against Uruguay.
Naturally, the praise has been coming in thick and fast for Pinto’s solid outfit, including from Brazilian star Kaka—per Eurosport’s Reda Maher via Twitter:
The plaudits are fully deserved, too, as Costa Rica just seem to have found an extra gear since touching down in Brazil and will look to continue their form against Greece.
Fernando Santos’ side, however, hadn’t found the net in the World Cup before their crunch clash with Ivory Coast, and OptaJoe’s statistics rather sum up exactly why:
Their strikers looked immobile and out of ideas for large spells of their Group C campaign, and they won’t be able to get away with such performances against the Costa Ricans.
The way that Greece set up means that every match they play is generally pretty tight, but Costa Rica should just have enough about them to break the Greeks down.
Either the Netherlands or Mexico await for whoever emerges victorious in Recife, but if it’s Costa Rica that go through, then they’ll really fancy their chances.
It’s been a remarkable story so far for the men from Central America, and it doesn’t look like coming to an end anytime soon.
Prediction: Costa Rica 2-1 Greece