Costa Rica v Greece is not the sort of fixture that would usually set pulses racing. After all, two teams with zero World Cup pedigree competing against each other in the round of 16 does nothing for the tournament’s reputation. Yet there is something strangely intriguing about this fixture. Costa Rica has without doubt been the surprise package of the tournament. Having comfortably won a group featuring England, Italy and Uruguay – beating the latter two in the process – the Central American nation with a population just slightly north of four million has become many people’s second team. Greece, on the other hand, is the soccer equivalent to Frank Bruno. Average at best, yet able to pull off a shock and hard to knock out.
However, the romantic fairytale of this World Cup is about to meet an abrupt ending for one of the sides and its going to be Costa Rica packing its bags. That is not because Greece is anything special. Far from it. The European side labored in all three of its matches in what was widely-regarded as the easiest group in the tournament. Yet Greece has big tournament experience and a selection of big game players. Panagiotis Kone and Georgios Samaras and struck up an understanding that saw the country through the group stage despite a sequence of average performances.
Greece can also defend with aplomb. The mind-numbing defensive style that was rightly or wrongly responsible for Greece winning Euro 2004 has stayed with the nation over the past decade. It might not work against the elite, whose ball retention skills will force errors in the Greek rearguard.
However, Greece is facing Costa Rica, a country that still cannot quite believe it is still in the tournament. That is not to take anything away from the minnow of world soccer, after all Uruguay and Italy were two big scalps. A draw with England was expected a few days before the game itself, but certainly not before the tournament began. Still, it is much easier to take on the group favorites when nobody expects you to win. Now that the world is wise to Costa Rica and the fact it is up against one of, if not, the other weakest remaining side in the tournament, just how will it deal with the pressure and level of expectation? Underdog status may have helped in the last three games, but it goes out of the window in the this game. Joel Campbell is a threat and Costa Rica will test the Greek defense but that is where the danger ends.
Greece, for once, will go into this game as the big boy of the tie and the Mediterranean sides knows it could not have been handed an easier clash as it bids to make it to the quarter-finals. There might well be a tragedy in the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 but it will not be one suffered by the Greeks. The dream is over for Costa Rica and the country should hold its head up high. Getting to where Italy, England and Spain failed is something to be proud of.
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Round of 16.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd