Chile was called the “dark horse” of the 2014 FIFA World Cup before the games began, and no one except Costa Ricans really paid attention to the Central American team that took second in CONCACAF qualifying until it blazed an impressive path through a group full of former champions. The determination Los Ticos showed in group play and the superb talents of Joel Campbell are just a couple of reason why Costa Rica will win the Round of 16 match on Sunday and advance to its first World Cup Quarterfinals appearance.
The seamlessness of the players, from goalkeeper Keylor Navas all the way to Campbell at the head of the formation, is Costa Rica’s best attribute. Celso Borges and Cristian Gamboa in particular create momentum from the back to fuel quick counterattacks before opponents can regroup and regain position. The way the midfielders shut down Andrea Pirlo contributed heavily to the win over Italy, which clinched advancement for the Ticos.
The defense has shown what it can accomplish against world class strikers like Mario Balotelli and Wayne Rooney. Costa Rica allowed only one goal in the tournament—a penalty kick to Uruguay which was quickly erased by three goals from the Ticos—and held both Italy and England scoreless. Fulham striker Kostas Mitroglou will be a force to contend with, as well as Georgios Samaras, who netted Greece’s winning goal in the final group stage match against Côte d’Ivoire. Giancarlo González and company are up to the task, however, and the back line will continue to hold strong as it has through the tournament.
The sheer talent and heart of Joel Campbell has set him apart as one of the top strikers in the tournament. At only 21 years old, Campbell has scored a World Cup goal and led his national team into the knockout rounds for its second time. He signed with Arsenal in 2011, but could not play in England because of an issue obtaining his work visa. Campbell has played in Greece, however, for Olympiakos FC, and has experience with the Greek defensive style, which will benefit him in this matchup.
Another reason Costa Rica will win this match is that Greece barely qualified for the 2014 World Cup in UEFA Group G and then barely advanced to the round of 16 with an eleventh-hour penalty kick. Greece took second in the qualifying group behind Bosnia and Herzegovina, forcing Piratiko into a dual-leg playoff with Romania. Greece defeated Romania on aggregate, earning the team a bid to the World Cup finals.
Once in the finals, though, Greece lost 3-0 to Colombia and managed a scoreless draw with Japan before coming up against Côte d’Ivoire in a must-win match that would decide the runner-up. Greece struck first, but allowed Côte d’Ivoire to even the score in the 74th minute. Time wound down, and it looked as though Greece would be going home, until Giovanni Sio clipped Samaras from behind in the box with less than 30 seconds to play. Samaras converted the penalty and the whistle blew just after the subsequent kickoff, giving Greece the win and the second advancing spot behind Colombia.
Greece has a solid defense, but striker Joel Campbell knows how to crack it, and Samaras and Mitroglou have not faced anything like Los Ticos’ defense-to-midfield cohesion. Costa Rica is a complete package with a tough defense and a surprising counterattack, which is why the Central Americans will win Sunday’s Round of 16 matchup and advance to the World Cup Quarterfinals for the first time in the nation’s history.
Commentary by Christina Jones
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Round of 16