Navas saves the day for Ticos

Updated: 2014-07-01 07:40

By Associated Press in Recife, Brazil (China Daily)

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Costa Rica's keeper slams the door in shootout win over Greece

When Costa Rica sealed its first berth in the World Cup quarterfinals, the celebrating Ticos sprinted straight for goalkeeper Keylor Navas and mobbed him in celebration.

Michael Umana had driven home the penalty kick that clinched the 5-3 shootout victory over Greece, but he didn't seem to mind that his teammates streamed right past him.

 Navas saves the day for Ticos

Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas makes a save against Theofanis Gekas of Greece during the penalty shootout in their round of 16 game at Pernambuco arena in Recife on Sunday. Costa Rica won the shootout 5-3. Damir Sagolj / Reuters

It was Navas, after all, who made a slew of spectacular saves on blistering shots and point-blank deflections during regulation and extra time, forcing the shootout in which he made the only save, diving right to swat away an attempt by Theofanis Gekas.

It was the latest chapter in a remarkable stint for Navas, who has two shutouts in this World Cup and recently enjoyed one of the best seasons of any goalkeeper in the Spanish league.

"For a long time I've worked in a very humble way so that I can do things for the benefit of my team, wherever I play," Navas said.

"I'm very pleased with all the people who reward my work and give me words of encouragement. I'm very grateful to my family and to my wife's family. I believe that they're all very important in my life."

As the pressure rose against Greece, Navas said he kept thinking of his children.

"That is what I've always tried to do. I try to be a good father, I try to be a good friend and in such a beautiful sport as football, I always try to have my kids happy so when they grow up they can look back and they can see a father who did important things for their country.

"That's what football is all about. Try to make history and the greater, the better."

Navas had already made two stunning saves, the latter in the final minute of stoppage time, as Costa Rica held on after Oscar Duarte was sent off in the 66th minute.

"He was brilliant," ecstatic Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said. "What he did will give him confidence and help his development and growth; he is one of the best in the world. We trusted him and he was in control during the penalties.

"He has grown and is an extraordinary man, which was recognized today."

Navas was credited with a La Liga-best 160 saves for Levante during his most recent club season. He had 16 shutouts and allowed 39 goals, meaning he stopped a La Liga-best 80.1 percent of the shots he faced.

In the World Cup, it's been more of the same. He yielded only one goal in the group stage, the Ticos' 3-1 comeback victory over Uruguay, then blanked Italy and England.

"I believe he's one of best goalkeepers in the world," Pinto said. "We trusted Navas during the penalties."

Greek coach Fernando Santos also cited Navas' heroics while referring to the goalkeeper as the "protagonist" in the match.

"Obviously, he has to be congratulated," Santos said. "If it weren't for him, the result would have been different."

Despite Costa Rica being down to 10 men, Navas didn't allow Greece to break through until injury time, when he made a diving save on Gekas, only to see defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos drive home the rebound to tie the score 1-1.

Greece, renowned for its defensive acumen, had never previously lost a World Cup game in which it had scored, and the Greeks had the best chances in extra time. Navas, however, was having none of it.

In the 113th minute, he made a diving save on Lazaros Chirstodoulopoulos' hard drive from 12 meters. Then in the final minutes of extra time, Navas rushed out to deflect Konstantinos Mitroglou's point-bank volley wide of the post.

Those stops set up his heroics in the shootout.

(China Daily 07/01/2014 page23)