Anyone who gave Costa Rica a legitimate shot at being here, after the Ticos were drawn into the Group of Champions, raise your hand. Make that anyone NOT from Costa Rica who thought so. Exactly. The Ticos were the confident, aggressive, tactically solid surprise of Group D, beating Uruguay and Italy and drawing England on their way to finishing first – one of three CONCACAF teams to make it to the knockout stage. Greece, on the other hand, woke up late – really late, as it turned out – after a dismal start to qualify second out of the jumble that was Group C.
EVERYONE'S CINDERELLA: How can you not love this Costa Rica team? They play with style, with flair, with discipline, and without an ounce of fear. Even Kaka knows this.
Kaká: 'Costa Rica y Joel Campbell son las sorpresas' http://t.co/yqLNk5GvS2— Julio Villegas (@jvilleg11) June 28, 2014
LAST TIME OUT: Costa Rica drew 0-0 with England, a match that was largely a formality with the Three Lions already eliminated and the Ticos having their tickets punched to the Round of 16 after picking up six points in their first two matches. The Greeks, with one point and a minus-3 goal differential going into their final match, decided offense wasn't such a bad thing after all and beat Ivory Coast 2-1 – on a stoppage-time penalty from Georgios Samaras – to reach the knockout round for the first time in three World Cup appearances.
EUROS YES, WORLD CUP NO: Despite their undistinguished record on the game's biggest stage, Greece do have a UEFA trophy on their shelf. Their surprise title in the 2004 Euros ranks as the team's biggest success, although they did reach the continental quarterfinals in 2012. Going into Sunday's knockout match, they hold a -16 goal differential through all World Cup matches (4 for, 20 against).
FANS IN FARAWAY PLACES: The biggest supporter of Greek star Giorgios Samaras, who plays for Glasgow giants Celtic, is an 11-year-old boy with Down Syndrome who lives in Northern Ireland. His celebration of Samaras's match-winning penalty against Ivory Coast convinced the Greek Federation to offer to fly him to Brazil.
NOT QUITE NEW: It's been 24 years, but Costa Rica have been in the Round of 16 before. That was in Italia '90, their first trip to the World Cup, where they finished second in their group but then got buzz-sawed 4-1 by Czechoslovakia in their first – and until now, only – knockout match.
ARSENAL DARLING: Given Joel Campbell's performances at the World Cup for Costa Rica, you can understand why Arsenal fans are salivating about the young attacker's prospects if and when he returns from loan.
THE STAR YOU KNOW: Celso Borges, M, Costa Rica. His father, Alexandre, was part of that 1990 team that delivered the Ticos' first taste of top-level success, and the son has followed well in those footsteps. He supplies a ton of pace, vision and creativity in the attacking midfield for Costa Rica, and will be a threat to score on free kicks.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU: Jose Holebas, M, Greece. Born in Germany to a Uruguayan mother and a Greek father, the Olympiakos left winger could've played for three different countries. Luckily for Greece, he chose them. His play on the left side has been a major factor of the side's success, even if it doesn't show up on the stat sheet.