Surprise factor gone, but Costa Rica still on roll
RECIFE, Brazil (AP) Defeated Greece coach Fernando Santos took a parting shot at Costa Rica: Teams know all about you now and your World Cup ride is over.
The surprise factor has gone, Santos said, and the upset wins have likely come to an end.
''I liked them a lot in the first three matches. I believe they surprised us a lot,'' Santos said after his Greece team lost on penalties to the Costa Ricans in the second round. ''But I believe at this moment people already know Costa Rica. It won't be very likely ... for Costa Rica to be able to go much further.''
That's not the only problem Santos foresees for Costa Rica when it faces one of the Netherlands, one of the title favorites, in the quarterfinals.
''I think in a competition like this you start to get tired and once you start to get tired, the individual players on the big teams start to carry more weight,'' he said.
Cue Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder to take control of the quarterfinal in Salvador on Saturday for the Netherlands. Basically, Santos doesn't give Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and the Costa Rica squad any hope of upsetting the Dutch.
Well, it may as well be Costa Rica's first game of the World Cup again.
Trailing Uruguay 1-0 after 24 minutes, many nodded wisely at their one certain pre-tournament prediction for Brazil, that Costa Rica would clearly be the strugglers in a group containing the Uruguayans, Italy and England, all former World Cup champions with seven titles between them.
Costa Rica responded by beating Uruguay and Italy and, while resting a couple of key players, holding England to a draw to top the group.
On Sunday, coach Jorge Luis Pinto's team added a former European champion to its list of vanquished rivals with a pulsating penalty shootout win over Greece after playing and defending desperately with 10 men for nearly an hour at Recife's Arena Pernambuco.
Costa Rica held out against all the odds, setting up the chance to take down another of the football heavyweight.
''You don't have these moments often in life and we want to take advantage of these moments, and that's the mentality of the group,'' Pinto said. ''We want to take advantage of this moment. But let us be sincere. We must give it our all in order to move forward. Netherlands is a world-class team. Great players, brilliant players. But we have confidence.''
Some of that confidence may come from the fact that Costa Rica showed some more of its qualities against Greece - mainly the fighting ones - after defender Oscar Duarte's 66th-minute red card put it under grinding pressure. And if Santos is talking about individual players influencing games, goalkeeper Keylor Navas single-handedly kept his country in the tournament with save after save to deny the desperate Greeks through regulation time and then 30 minutes of extra time. Fittingly, he produced the only save of the shootout.
The Dutch are overwhelmingly favored to beat Costa Rica, for sure. But there's always a little room for a surprise.
Having constantly preached throughout this World Cup that his team is a long-shot, an underdog and a ''dark horse,'' Pinto briefly broke free of that message in the euphoria following the win over Greece to hail Costa Rica's historic place in the quarterfinals.
''Rest assured that we will not get eliminated there,'' Pinto said, surprising everyone with his sudden boasting.