Costa Rica vs. Greece (Round of 16)

Costa Rica vs. Greece is the surprise matchup of the second round. Few expected Greece to qualify from a decent group C, and even fewer thought Costa Rica might survive England, Italy, and Uruguay’s Group D, the “Group of Champions.” Tonight should be a real scrap between one team punching above its weight (Costa Rica) and another team just plain punching; the Greeks, who failed to score in their first two matches, famously have a penchant for physical play and for soccer’s dark arts.

What’s At Stake

Greece has never made it this far; Costa Rica have reached this stage once (Italy 1990). The winners get a quarterfinal match with the Netherlands, when their World Cup dreams will presumably be ended by a strong Dutch side.

Perhaps more importantly, this is the first time these two nations have met. That means that whether the Greeks win or the Ticos win, one country will come out of today with a perfect record against another country. I’m sure that will be a first for either.


I usually write as little as possible about Greece’s Ethniki – I’ve always been told that if I can’t think of anything nice to say, I ought not say anything at all – so I’ll be brief.

The aim of this Greek side is to grind out 1-0 victories, as has been the case since they won each knockout-round match by that score on the way to victory at Euro 2004. It’s a really clever approach, with only two problems: 1) Greece have scored in only two of their nine previous World Cup matches, and 2) in those nine matches, Greece have kept only one clean sheet. In the face of such consistent failure, you might as well try to play some more attractive football, right Greece?

In fact, that’s what we saw in Greece’s last match against Ivory Coast, which Greece probably deservedly won 2-1. They pressed high and pushed plenty of men forward in attack. Will that happen today? Will the midfield “3” in 4-3-3 be two deep and one forward, or two forward and one deep? I expect they’ll be more attacking than usual, and I suspect they’ll have one attacking midfielder, possibly Karagounis or Samaras, in a shape similar to 4-2-3-1.

Costa Rica, like Greece, play with three forwards: Christian Bolaños, Bryan Ruiz, and striker Joel Campbell. Unlike Greece, however, they play with five defenders. When the two midfielders ahead of the back five (Yeltsin Tejeda and Celso Borges today) sit deep, the Costa Rican 5-2-3 begins to look very defensive. But its saving grace is the talent of the front three. Joel Campbell is lightning quick, and both Bolaños and Ruiz are adept at protecting the ball long enough to find a pass to him. Greece could leak a goal on the counterattack if they get carried away trying to break down Costa Rica’s defense, which has conceded no goals except Edinson Cavani’s penalty in the first half of their first match.

Players to Watch

Costa Rica: Yeltsin Tejeda. He completed more passes (43-51) than any other Costa Rican in the last Group D match against England. He’s also named after former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Greece: Georgios Karagounis (pictured above), the versatile 37-year-old midfielder who is the heart of the Greek team.


Daniel Mann and Kasey Keller. Are any of the commentators getting tired of each other yet? This is the fifth match together for these two.

Keller was one of several excellent American keepers to have played in the last two or three decades. He was featured in a New York Times piece on penalties yesterday.

Match-specific Drinking Games

Tentative: Drink a gallon of half-ouzo/half-guaro if both sides, intending to play defensively, back off when the ref blows the first whistle and nobody touches the ball before halftime. How drunk? I don’t see this happening.

Patience: Take a shot every fifteen minutes until someone scores. Neither team involved this afternoon has scored before the 40th minute in this World Cup. How drunk? Try to avoid sensitive conversation topics at dinner if you play this game.

Bruising: Take a sip whenever a foul is committed. How drunk? Steady buzz. Today’s match could get chippy.


Costa Rica: Guaro.

Greece: Ouzo. I hope you get to stop drinking this after today, too.

For more:

– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews involving these teams: Japan vs. Greece, Uruguay vs. Costa Rica, Colombia vs. Greece

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