Recife, Brazil: If Costa Rica midfielder Michael Barrantes believes his small Central American country’s national side is favoured to reach the World Cup quarterfinals, he’s not about to say so publicly.
“We’re not favorites. We’re going to face off with a great team. Greece is a great team. They have the merits to belong” in the second round, Barrantes said Saturday, on the eve of the Ticos’ second round match against Greece. “We came here as a dark horse,” Barrantes added. “We surprised the world.”
Costa Rica entered the World Cup as a long-shot simply to advance out of Group D, which also included former world champions England, Italy and Uruguay. Instead, the Ticos won the group ahead of Uruguay – a side Costa Rica defeated 3-1 – while Italy and England were eliminated.
Greece, meanwhile, did not score in its first two World Cup games and required a penalty in injury time to beat Ivory Coast 2-1 and finish second in Group C. In the days immediately after Greece clinched its spot against Costa Rica, some of the team openly accepted the notion that their recent form made them the favorites.
Apparently, Costa Rico’s Colombian coach, Jorge Luis Pinto, decided such talk was not in his side’s best interest, and the tune has changed. “We will give to Greece all the respect it deserves,” Pinto said. “It is a team that can indeed defend well and can score goals, and it’s difficult to control them.”
Pinto danced around questions which suggested his team could have an advantage.
He also largely avoided the topic of striker Joel Campbell’s familiarity with Greek players. Campbell played for Greek champions Olympiakos last season, and four of his teammates at the Athens-based club (midfielder Andreas Samaris; and defenders Giannis Maniatis, Kostas Menolas and Jose Holebas) are playing for Greece in Brazil.
Asked how Campbell might help with scouting the Greeks, Pinto said blandly that he and his staff have studied dozens of matches involving Greek players and welcomed input from any player who has played with or against Greek players in various European leagues.
Costa Rica is trying to win an elimination game for the first time, having made the second round only once before, in 1990, when it lost to Czechoslovakia. “We’re writing the history of football for our country,” Barrantes said. “Since we’ve come here, we’ve trusted in ourselves and we have no set ceiling for our performance.”