Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Sunday, Jun 29, 2014; 21:00 Hrs BST
La Sele take on the Greeks in perhaps the most low-key affairs of the knockout stage, nevertheless a place in history beckons for the victor. Costa Ricans have been the surprise package of the tournament; dubbed as the whipping boys of the group of the death, La Sele exceeded all expectations in finishing top of their group ahead of the more favored nations like Italy, England and Uruguay.
Greece on the other hand sneaked into the knockout stages by the proverbial skin of their teeth. A place in the quarter finals is now at stake and a showdown with either the Dutch or the Mexicans. A fascinating duel is in store and rest assured no stone would be left unturned as the two nations continue to defy the odds.
Team News And Tactics
Manager Jorge Luis Pinto’s side owes its success to the defensive stability and compactness that has been ingrained into the system. The Costa Ricans didn’t concede a single goal from open play in their three group games, and rarely did they look much threatened. Likes of Wayne Rooney, Sturridge and Balotelli couldn’t find a way past the Costa Rican rearguard and only Cavani registered a solitary penalty against them.
La Sele don’t have a star studded line-up as such with only Brian Ruiz and Joel Campbell as the well-known faces, however their system is the real star. Pinto’s side set-up in the slightly unusual 5-4-1 formation and rely heavily on the pace of their wing-backs Cristian Gamboa and Júnior Díaz. This counter-attacking set-up has enabled them to make the best use of their limited resources. Also, the La Sele are pretty good on set pieces, Copenhagen midfielder Christian Bolaños is a specialist. Other notable performance so far has come from their goalkeeper Keylor Navas, the Levante man has been in sensational and has carried his club form to the international stage.
Joel Campbell is undoubtedly the star of Luis Pinto’s side. The Arsenal man, Campbell has shone in his loan spell to Olympiacos and there are calls for Wenger to bring him back to the Emirates. Costa Rica rely heavily on Campbell’s pace and direct running as he can swiftly turn defense into attack.
Costa Rica Expected Line up (5-4-1): Navas; Gamboa, Duarte, González, Umaña, Díaz; Ruiz, Borges, Tejeda, Bolaños; Campbell
Greece and drama are never far off. It looked that the Greek were heading back home only for a last-gasp penalty against the Ivory Coast to revive their chances and send them through to the knockout stages. The Greece national side has often been ridiculed as a boring and unimaginative side, but they dominated the highly favored Ivory Coast side for large portions of the contest and the better team did prevail in the end.
Fernando Santos’s side got off to a poor start as they were thumped by the Colombians in the first group game. The Greeks earned a valuable point off Asian powerhouse Japan and should have perhaps shown more adventure to grab all three. But the Euro 2004 champions game through in a tough battle against the much-heralded Ivory Coast side and now face the prospect of creating history.
Traditionally the Greeks have a history of playing cautiously, nicking the odd goal and then defending for their lives. But there has been a change in recent times, Fernando Santos’s side do counter well but can also dominate possession and dictate play. But with the stakes so high, expect both sides to exercise caution over adventure.
Former Man City striker Samaras is their star man and will be entrusted to provide the attacking flair and invention. Samaras is a much improved player from his not-so outstanding stint in England and is a key to Greece’s success. Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou, who took a hit to his side and had to be taken off against Japan, could return for the game and bolster their offense.
Christodoulopoulos is another impressive performer; the Bologna midfielder is good on the ball and can create panic with his pace and quick feet. Let’s not forget the veteran of Greek football and the most capped player in Greece’s history, Giorgos Karagounis. The Fulham midfielder is still going strong and giving it his all for his beloved country, but this should surely be his last appearance on the international stage.
Greece Expected Line up (4-5-1): Karnezis; Torosidis, Manolas, Papastathopoulos, Holebas; Kone, Maniatis, Karagounis, Christodoulopoulos, Samaras; Salpingidis
Player To Watch
Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)
Campbell’s impact on Costa Rica’s campaign cannot be overstated. The Arsenal player was instrumental in their victory against Uruguay in the opening game and also troubled the defense of Italy and England. Campbell is not the archetypal number 9; he isn’t the battering ram center forward but operates more as an outlet by running the channels and providing an out-ball for Costa Rican counter-attacks.
Costa Rica 1-0 Greece
The contest won’t be a goal fest that’s for sure, as both sides are more at home defending than attacking. It would be interesting to see which side takes up the mantle of dictating play and forcing the game, as playing on the counter is what both sides relish.