Costa Rica stopped three former World Cup champions during the group stage, they made history after beating Greece in the round of 16, via penalty kicks, and now they are ready to face the Netherlands. But can they keep it going?
The group stage
Los Ticos seemed to be destined to fail since they were drawn in the Group of Death last December.
Amazingly, they did what no one thought was possible. They beat Uruguay with a fantastic display of dynamism and fluency.
Along came Italy, and the result was pretty much the same. Costa Rica managed to crack the Azzurri defense with a fantastic cross that Bryan Ruiz finished in style.
Costa Rica managed to take the Europeans out of their comfort zone, mainly by pushing Andrea Pirlo to a less offensive role.
Suddenly, Los Ticos not only became the dark horse, they also led the group.
On the last matchday they faced a weak England that had already lost twice. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto even managed to line up some players who had stayed on the bench in the previous games.
Overall, Squawka.com reported that Costa Rica created 23 chances, despite their clear lack of ball possession, which equalled 46 percent.
We learned some important lessons from Costa Rica during this phase.
For starters, they proved that hunger and teamwork can be more valuable than international recognition and individual efforts. Secondly, that CONCACAF is growing more than expected.
The round of 16
Greece was a worthy contender, and they managed to put Los Ticos in distress in the second half, especially after centre-back Oscar Duarte was sent off.
Costa Rica held off and protected their 1-0 advantage until stoppage time, when Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored the equalizer.
It seemed that Los Ticos' dream was about to end. They were tired, with one man less on the pitch and clearly overpowered by Greece.
In those last 30 minutes, the Europeans shot twice on target, had 92 percent of pass effectiveness and created four chances, as per Squawka.com.
Costa Rica taught us that quitting is not an option. Keylor Navas pushed his teammates through the overtime and all the way to the penalty kicks.
This time nothing was left to luck because Navas, yet again, became the key factor, the man of the match after saving Theofanis Gekas' decisive spot-kick.
Moreover, Costa Rica showed a lot of professionalism in the penalty kicks, putting away all of them with no hesitation.
The biggest question of all right now is, can they become this tournament's surprise?
To get to a convincing answer, we must consider their rival. The Netherlands have gone through their toughest match against Mexico.
The Oranje couldn't keep up with El Tri for 87 minutes, until Wesley Sneijder broke the deadlock just two minutes before the final whistle. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar sealed the deal in stoppage time.
In 20 minutes, the Netherlands changed the pace of the game with efforts from Arjen Robben, who took advantage of Hector Moreno's absence due to an injury.
He will do the same against Los Ticos now that Duarte will miss the next match.
What will really hurt Costa Rica is ball possession. Unlike what happened against previous rivals, the Netherlands just need one opportunity to change the score.
We have seen throughout the tournament that no matter how tough the scenario, they know how to amend it as soon as possible.
Louis van Gaal is one of the best strategists in world football right now. He changed the formation against Mexico and brought in Leroy Fer vs. Chile, with the only purpose to provide more depth to the squad, which he did.
This will be Costa Rica's farewell. But Los Ticos will leave this World Cup as the best CONCACAF team in the tournament, ahead of Mexico and the United States.
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