By Toby Davis
A SOLID defence used to be Greece’s modus operandi while Costa Rica traditionally relied on maverick individuals but the stereotypes have been shed in this World Cup where the two teams face a last-16 clash on Sunday night.
A World Cup quarter-final against either the Netherlands or Mexico is the prize on offer for both when they meet in the coastal Brazilian city of Recife.
Few predicted that either team would make it this far.
Costa Rica turned heads by finishing above Uruguay, Italy and England in ultra-competitive Group D, yet it was the manner in which the Central Americans accumulated seven points from their three games that proved the most surprising.
They were exceptionally organised at the back, ruthlessly quick and punchy on the break and nobody stood out as being more influential than the overall team ethic.
While the fleet-footed Joel Campbell provides the focal point in attack, the most impressive thing about Costa Rica is the speed at which they get bodies up to support the lone frontman, without leaving themselves exposed at the back.
Greece, who emerged into the knockout stages after a last-gasp Giorgos Samaras penalty gave them a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast to snatch the runners-up spot in Group C, looked anything but organised in their games.
They were porous at the back, as shown in an opening 3-0 defeat by Colombia, but sprightly in attack and generally more eager to go forward than in past tournaments, where a solid backline was usually the foundation on which they built.
Greece were caught out several times in their opener against group winners Colombia, with the players putting it down to nerves.
Against Ivory Coast, however, they arguably played their most aggressive game in years, and the two goals they scored equalled their tally for their eight previous World Cup games combined.
“We showed against Ivory Coast how well we can defend but also how good we can be in attack,” said Greece coach Fernando Santos, a former touchline chain smoker.
“We created a lot of chances and we kept attacking until the end. Even when we conceded the 74th minute equaliser, we continued to attack.”
Santos, who replaced Euro 2004 winning coach Otto Rehhagel in 2010 is not amused by continued claims that Greece only know how to defend.
“I can but laugh as it is a joke,” he said.
Like Costa Rica, they were nobody’s favourites to make it beyond the group stage.
Costa Rica midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda said: “We were thinking more about Colombia and the Ivory Coast and in the end came the least expected team. Now we have to change the video cassette.”
This is Greece’s first appearance in the World Cup knockout round, while Costa Rica have never been beyond the last 16.
The only previous time the Ticos reached this stage was in 1990 when, having come out of a group that included Brazil, Sweden and Scotland, they lost heavily to Czechoslovakia.