Greece vs. Costa Rica: 6 Things We Learned
It is fair to say that Greece vs. Costa Rica took a while to get going. However, by the end, there had been tremendous drama and heartbreak for the Greeks. That cruellest of football endings, a penalty shootout defeat, saw them exit the tournament.
Their showing in these finals has been better than many expected.
Here are six things we learned from the Piratiko's final run out of Brazil 2014.
Greece's Never-Say-Die Spirit Is Alive and Well
Their chance seemed to have gone.
Greece's remarkably tenacious spirit once again gave them other ideas. Late drama was in order, just as it had been against the Ivory Coast.
Although it did not necessarily feel like an inevitable outcome, there was a strong sense of deja vu about the moment.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos—in the very definition of the right place at the very definition of the right time—kept Greek hopes alive.
"They don't know when they are beaten" may be a cliche in football, but it is more than appropriate here.
An Individual Mistake Was Extremely Costly
Greece maintained their defensive shape throughout the first half, in spite of Costa Rica's attempts to draw them onto the front foot.
When Costa Rica did manage to get some space, Greece's defending was effective, as the tackles flew and shots were blocked.
Bryan Ruiz's goal came as the result of a rare positional error from Giannis Maniatis. Kostas Manolas was drawn out of the area to challenge Joel Campbell around 30 yards from the Greek goal. Campbell was able to hold off the challenge and fed the ball out to the wing.
As the cross came in, Manolas stuck with his man and followed Campbell into the box, but Maniatis was slow to respond. He began his dart back out of the box too late, leaving Ruiz with the space to direct his finish into the far corner.
Holebas Won the Battle with Gamboa
Ahead of the game, both Bleacher Report World Football Tactics Lead Writer Sam Tighe and myself drew attention to the battle between Greek left-back Jose Holebas and Costa Rican right wing-back Cristian Gamboa. It was a battle that Holebas won comfortably.
Holebas looked to have the beating of Gamboa and put in 10 crosses to Gamboa's five during normal time.
Gamboa was replaced after 76 minutes, and Holebas remained on the pitch all the way through to penalties, managing to cap a fine performance by scoring from the spot.
The Issue of Goals Has Not Been Addressed
At the turn of the year, Kostas Mitroglou looked all set to be the man who finished the chances Greece created. On fire for Olympiakos for the first half of the season, his move to Fulham saw his career stall.
He managed to score his penalty in the shootout, but he was not able to find his goalscoring touch in open play at any point in the tournament. Thus, the old problem of "who will score the goals?" remained.
Papastathopoulos' strike was the only one of Greece's 23 shots to find its way past Keylor Navas.
This was down to a combination of Navas' excellent keeping and Greece's wayward finishing.
Fernando Santos Got More Right Than He Got Wrong
Although unable to unlock the right combination of forwards to provide goals, Santos has had a respectable campaign as Greece coach.
Getting through the group stages was a phenomenal achievement, and his side were inches away from the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
His selections have by and large been impressive, particularly following the exclusion of Kostas Katsouranis against Japan.
With Katsouranis unavailable to him when facing the Ivory Coast, he turned to Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, who provided more dynamism in midfield. Andreas Samaris' arrival for the injured Panagiotis Kone saw Greece produce their best football of the tournament, and Santos stuck with the pair for the game against Costa Rica.
He may rue his decision to include Katsouranis in the starting line-up against Japan, and he could perhaps be accused of overrotating his forward line.
However, he coached a team that showed more attacking intent than his predecessor's, whilst retaining a solid platform in defence.
Having qualified for two major tournaments and navigated the group stages of each of them, he can certainly leave with his head held high.
Greece Lost with Immense Pride
After what must have been an incredibly gruelling 120 minutes of football, both sides produced outstanding penalties.
Theofanis Gekas' attempt might have been saved by the excellent Navas, but it speaks volumes for the character and resolve of both sets of players that their spot-kicks were of such a high standard.
Greece's side unquestionably has flaws, particularly the much discussed lack of a goal threat. However, they also have many fine qualities.
Their defensive play was generally excellent throughout the tournament, a 3-0 defeat to Colombia aside.
They found a way to win their final group game when all seemed lost.
They also managed to keep their cool under immense pressure from 12 yards. Georgios Samaras' fine finish against the Ivory Coast was matched by the first three penalty takers against Costa Rica. Even Gekas' failure to score was a result of a fine save rather than a poor penalty.
There is plenty for Greece to be proud of as they exit a World Cup finals during the knockout stages for the first time.
Their fans can take immense pride in their team's endeavours.
Stats via Squawka unless otherwise noted.
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