RECIFE, Brazil (AP) — When Costa Rica sealed its first berth in the World Cup quarterfinals, the celebrating Ticos sprinted straight for 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.
It was Navas, after all, who made a slew of spectacular saves of 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 Theofanis Gekas’ attempt.
It was the latest chapter in a remarkable stint for Navas, who has two clean sheets 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, 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 tried 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,” Navas said. “That’s what football is all about. Try to make history and the greater, the better.”
Navas was credited with a La Liga-best 160 saves for Levante during his most recent club season. He had 16 clean sheets 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 shut out Italy and England.
“I believe he’s one of best goalkeepers in the world,” Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis 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 results 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, Navas made a diving save on Lazaros Chirstodoulopoulos’ hard 13-yard shot.
Then in the final minutes of extra time, Navas rushed out to deflect wide Konstantinos Mitroglou’s point-bank volley from eight yards out.
Those stops set up Navas’ heroics in the shootout.
“These were difficult penalties,” Pinto said. “He’s an extraordinary man. He was recognized today for his abilities.”
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