Costa Rica vs. Greece: Keylor Navas the Difference in Defensive Stalemate

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJune 29, 2014

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 29: Keylor Navas of Costa Rica reacts after saving the penalty kick of Theofanis Gekas of Greece during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Costa Rica and Greece at Arena Pernambuco on June 29, 2014 in Recife, Brazil.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Costa Rica's fairy-tale run in the FIFA World Cup 2014 continued as they held on to beat Greece on penalties in their clash in the round of 16 on Sunday.

Bryan Ruiz's pea-roller had put the Ticos ahead in the second half, only for Greece's Sokratis Papastathopoulos to bundle home an equaliser with minutes to spare. Costa Rica's task was made infinitely harder due to Oscar Duarte's sending off, but they held on for penalties and prevailed 5-4.


Formations and XIs


Costa Rica restored the same XI that won their opening two games in their usual 3-5-2 formation, with Christian Bolanos and Michael Umana returning to the starting setup.

Greece played a deep 4-2-3-1 with Andreas Samaris alongside Giannis Maniatis in holding midfield. Lazaros Christodoulopoulos continued on the left, and Georgios Samaras retained his place up front.


Careful Football

Both Costa Rica and Greece are renowned for careful, defensive football, but what happens when the two meet?

Neither looked happy in possession, with the Ticos dominating the first 15 minutes and the Piratiko coming to life from then on. Given time and space on the ball, both teams struggled to fashion clear-cut chances.

Joel Campbell's influence was minimised by a deep-set Greek midfield line and two aggressive centre-back displays; Samaras made good headway and held the ball up but was either swamped or fouled quickly to reduce his impact.



Trying to Get Around

Greece, at least, tried to find a way around Costa Rica's defensive mechanism by whichever means necessary.

Samaris, from deep in midfield, attempted to angle passes around the back of the Ticos' defensive three and through the channels to Samaras. Catching Costa Rica high up is the way to hurt them, and in just the 30th second, an early pass into Samaras' feet was rewarded by him being floored 35 yards from goal.

Christodoulopoulos worked the left channel well, and Jose Holebas got forward from left-back to help overlap. If anything, Greece won the wide battle, overwhelming Cristian Gamboa and Junior Diaz, but failed to generate much from it early on.


Changes Aplenty

Costa Rica scored early in the second half, and it's no coincidence that the first time Campbell got free and attracted two markers, Bolanos was able to square to Ruiz for a goal.


In retaliation, Fernando Santos threw on Kostas Mitroglou and switched to a 4-4-2 in hopes of bagging an equaliser. His quest was made considerably easier by Duarte's red card in the 66th minute—he'd been dribbled past so many times that the sending off felt inevitable.

Costa Rica subsequently moved to a 4-4-1 and brought Johnny Acosta on to fill the void Duarte had left. Greece began piling on the pressure, and the Ticos began looking more and more helpless.

The 5-4-1 system usually uses Ruiz as a link player to Campbell, but with the Fulham man tucking in on the right of the new 4-4-1 defensive shell, his striker was left marooned on his own up front. Greece confronted him four versus one, eating him alive and allowing him nothing.

Greece's crossing vs. Costa Rica: effective from the left
Greece's crossing vs. Costa Rica: effective from the

The Piratiko were able to push both full-backs all the way up and cross continually, aiming for their three strikers and trying to force the ball in.



Costa Rica prevailed on penalties, with nine top-quality shots finding the back of the net and one subpar effort predictably saved by the magnificent Keylor Navas.

Greece edged the game overall in terms of chances created and tactical nous, but the Ticos just keep on finding ways to win and progress against the odds.

They face the Netherlands next, and in a way, that's a better matchup for them—on paper—than Greece. Jorge Luis Pinto's men can sit back, soak up pressure and release Campbell between the lines on counter-attacks.

The Dutch will have to try to engineer a win; the Ticos can react to the flow.