World Cup 2014 last 16 preview: Costa Rica v Greece
This last 16 encounter will be a tale of two true underdogs, as shock Group D winners Costa Rica, odds-on at 4/5 to qualify for the quarter-finals, clash with unexpected contenders Greece.
It will be a historic first meeting for the two sides, with the Central American minnows and gritty Europeans both hoping to record a landmark win.
For former European Champions Greece, it will also be the first time they have appeared in the World Cup knockout stages, whilst relative old hands Costa Rica have made it to the last 16 once before, at Italia ‘90. On that occasion, having lost talismanic goalkeeper Luis Cabelo Conejo, they were eliminated 4-1 by Czechoslovakia.
A film recently released in honour of that legendary run, which also happened to be Los Ticos’ debut on the global stage, seems to have done a magnificent job of inspiring the current squad. Costa Rica are odds-on at 6/4 to win in 90 minutes against the Pirate Ship, and may one day see their successes immortalised on the silver screen too.
Los Ticos, a tempting 5/1 to make it to the semi-finals, enter the game with a tremendous tournament record of two wins and one draw, which is no mean feat from a group that included former winners Italy, England and Uruguay. Before their amazing Group D exploits, though, their World Cup warm-up form was far from encouraging.
Costa Rica’s last six international friendlies include four defeats and a draw, with the Central Americans shipping eleven goals, and illustrating serious vulnerability in defence. They have yet to crumble in Brazil though, only conceding once.
Resisting the understandable urge to park the bus against more illustrious teams, Costa Rica have been a joy to watch, taking on the big boys with no trace of fear or an inferiority complex. Pacey full backs with the ability to bomb forward, along with fantastic organisation and energetic pressing high up the pitch, have been key to their success so far.
Previous goal heroes, explosive Arsenal attacker Joel Campbell and Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, are at 6/4, and 15/8 to net anytime respectively.Their attacking prowess will be severely tested, though, against a Greek side that seem to have the Gods on their side.
Both teams seem to have been given a helping hand by fate, but where Los Ticos’ performances deserved a place in the knockout phase, the Pirate Ship have profited from several slices of luck.
Greece scraped through their pool with a dramatic last gasp winner against the Ivory Coast. It was only a penalty, converted expertly by Georgios Samaras in added time, which guided them to the last 16, whilst fellow contenders for the much desired second spot, Japan and the Ivory Coast, both capitulated.
Former Celtic man Samaras, 7/1 to net first, or 2/1 to be on target anytime, was cool under pressure, and thrived after being deployed up front instead of on the wing. Compatriot Andreas Samaris was the man who opened scoring against the Elephants, and he is 9/1 to do so again against Los Ticos.
Crowned European Champions in 2004, despite being largely unfancied at the time, Greece are 21/10 to shock the world again by beating everyone’s favourite minnow Costa Rica, and are also at 6/1 to make the World Cup semi-finals.
Relying heavily on a backline that defended admirably with Greece reduced to 10 men against Japan, and with three of their last six games ending in a stalemate, the Pirate Ship are 9/5 to keep a clean sheet again.
Having provided so much drama in their respective groups, neutrals will be hoping these two dark horse nations can instigate an exciting encounter fit to compete with the glamour games, in this most unlikely of last 16 clashes.
However, with so much at stake, and both teams most efficient on the counter-attack, it could prove to be a cagey affair, with odds at 21/10 for a draw over 90 minutes.