Keylor Navas (pictured) celebrates after Costa Rica outlasted Greece on penalty kicks in a FIFA World Cup round of 16 match at Arena Pernambuco on June 29, 2014, in Recife, Brazil. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)
SANTOS, Brazil -- After playing 120 minutes against Greece in the round of 16 on Sunday, all that stood between Costa Rica and its first-ever trip to the World Cup quarterfinals were penalty kicks. The Ticos had been brave, playing with 10-men for nearly an hour and, despite conceding a last gasp equalizer to the Greeks, the team had battled through extra time to force a shootout.
Through the first three rounds, both sides were perfect. It was in the fourth round that Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas would step up and become a hero.
With the weight of a country on his shoulders, the Levante dove to his right and made a sprawling one-handed save to thwart Theofanis Gekas’ well-struck penalty attempt. Michael Umaña then slotted home the ensuing spot-kick to seal the victory, sparking breathtaking scenes of jubilation throughout Costa Rica
“It’s a fantastic feeling,” said Navas. “Thank God I was able to stop it.”
Over the course of the last month, he has transformed himself from one of the best kept secrets in the game to a genuine star.
Born in San Isidro, Costa Rica, Navas – who in 2010 made the move abroad from Saprissa to Albacete in Spain – has helped the Ticos to surpass all expectations at Brazil 2014. After making a series of fine saves in a 3-1 opening victory over Uruguay, the 27-year-old next earned an impressive clean sheet against four-time world champion Italy. Then, he went to claim man-of-the-match honors in a 0-0 draw with England. Against the Greeks, Navas was again at his best, helping the Central American champion advance in the competition once again.
“This is a huge achievement for us,” expressed Navas. “We are thrilled to bits and we’re doing something massively important for our country. We need to keep this feeling going.”
The Ticos are extremely popular in Brazil, not just because of what they have achieved, but how they have achieved it. Scoring high-quality goals and playing a proactive defensive style that has frustrated some of the world’s best attacking players – Costa Rica has been a delight to watch.
Despite the plethora of attention and individual plaudits, Navas remains humble, preferring to keep the attention focused on his team.
“There are no secrets,” Navas finished. “We play from the bottom of our hearts, for our country. We’ve always wanted to make history.”
In that regard, it’s mission accomplished.