Costa Rica vs. Greece meet today in Recife in the Round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup … just like everybody drew it up two weeks ago. Call this the classic No. 12 seed meets No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament Sweet Sixteen.
CONCACAF Pride: In America we all got wrapped up labeling Group G as the ‘Group of Death.’ Group D (or C) was every bit of deadly and Costa Rica emerging atop Uruguay, England and Italy is nothing short of remarkable. Even more impressive? The Ticos only allowed one goal — a 24th minute penalty to Edinson Cavani in their first match. Jorge Luis Pinto’s squad has CONCACAF partisans daring to dream about the oft-dismissed federation.
CONCACAF’s record from the Group Stage finished at 5-4-3. That mark would look at lot better had Honduras not finished 0-3-0. As fun as it is to root for CONCACAF like SEC football fans do for their league, 3 1/2 World Cup berths for the federation remains very fair. Mexico, as we saw earlier today, lost in heart-breaking fashion to the Netherlands – leaving the World Cup in the Round of 16 for the sixth straight tournament.
Costa Rica’s approach is simple: defend as a collective, press to take opponents out of a comfort zone and rely on its two showpiece attackers — Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz — to make something happen in the final third. It would appear playing the “nobody believes in us card” still has its merits as Uruguay and Italy found out.
Can you please say something nice about Greece?: Challenge accepted. As an American it’s a wee bit hypocritical to crow about the United States advancing from Group G with a 1-1-1 record when its the same mark Greece finished with in Group C. Greece’s 3-0 loss to Colombia doesn’t look that bad any more, does it, considering how well Colombia has played in its four matches, right?
Miscellany: Greece players have reportedly turned down their World Cup bonuses and asked the Greek Federation to use the money to build a new training center. … Greece is the only team with negative goal differential to advance into the knockout rounds. … Campbell spent last season on-loan at Olympiacos. Only four members of the Greece team in Brazil play for reinging Greek Super League champions, however. … Costa Rica’s roster has three MLS-based players and three-Norwegian Tippeligaen-based players. … Each team will be captained by a Fulham player today — Ruiz for Costa Rica, 37-year-old Giorgos Karagounis for Greece.
Outlook: On paper this sets up for a defensive slog. Costa Rica has played five defenders at the tournament. Greece, meanwhile, defends like its going out of style. At some point somebody is going to have to try to take the initiative and try to score. Otherwise this game comes down to set pieces and defending for 90 (or 120) minutes. (Fun. Then again, nothing has made sense at this World Cup so far so watch this game turn into a shootout. Winner here gets the Netherlands on Saturday. … Greece 2, Costa Rica 1.