By Spiros Sideris – Athens
Greece was knocked out of the World Cup on Sunday after losing to Costa Rica in a penalty shootout. Costa Rica secured a place in the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time after scoring five penalty shots against Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis. Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas dived superbly to save Theofanis Gekas’s fourth penalty for the Greeks, leaving Michael Umana to score the decisive penalty kick and send his country’s fans into raptures.
The two sides finished level at 1-1 after extra time, the Central Americans playing for almost an hour with 10 men.
In the 52nd minute when an unmarked Bryan Ruiz placed a low sidefooted shot beyond Greek keeper Orestis Karnezis and into the corner, but Costa Rica then had defender Oscar Duarte sent off for a second booking in the 66th minute.
Greece managed to equalize in dramatic style in added time when Fanis Gekas unleashed a shot that Navas parried straight into the path of Sokratis Papasthathopoulos who sent the ball into an empty net.
Greece capitalized on the Costa Rica sending off in extra time and had many chances to grab the all important goal that would have seen them through to the next round. However, Mitroglou missed a glorious chance in extra-time’s 31st minute, and the game went to the shootout.
Costa Rica, whose only previous appearance in the last 16 came 24 years ago, now face the Netherlands with a place in the semi-finals at stake.
The Greeks return home having passed through to the knockout stage for the first time in their history in what was only their third appearance in the World Cup. Portugese coach Fernando Santos sat on the bench for the very last time as he won’t be renewing his contract. His decision to step down was known well before the World Cup finals and the Football Federation has already found a replacement in experienced Italian manager Claudio Ranieri.
In an emotional goodbye, Santos told state broadcaster NERIT that he will rememeber the entire four years of his tenure and that the team had achieved a great deal. He stressed however that “today (Sunday) is a day of sorrow. And this is because I believed very much that we will qualify. We lacked concentration in extra time. We had the best chances but played them out in an unorthodox way”.
Yorgos Karagounis, a European Champion with Greece in 2004, captained the side for the last time too as he will retire from international football.