Can Costa Rica continue its magical run?

June 29, 2014, 9:37 AM

Day 17 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup presents two intriguing Round of 16 matches.

The first is the Netherlands versus Mexico, featuring two excellent, counter-attacking sides that deploy a three-man defence.

The other game sees two knockout stage debutants facing one another. Greece and Costa Rica could continue their unexpected run and qualify to the quarterfinals against the winner of the earlier match.

Here are four keys for Sunday’s games…


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Dutch must utilize their speed

Both Mexico and the Netherlands have almost identical systems, but there’s been one noticeable difference between the two—the Dutch have significantly less possession and inaccurate passing.

That could come down to facing Spain in their first match, but even in their last two games in Group B, they didn’t have more than 50 percent possession and were erratic with their passing.

Only Iran had less possession in the group stage, according to Whoscored.com, and that isn’t surprising when watching their games. Arjen Robben was the engine that ran the Dutch counter-attacks, but the wingbacks contributed just as much. Manager Louis van Gaal needs that pace. Mexico’s defence is slow and won’t be able to contain all of those fast players at once.

Mexico has to be wary of counter-attacks

Spain learned the hard way what happens when a team doesn’t take their chances or pushes too high up against the Netherlands. Mexico have to make sure that when they have possession, they cannot be left exposed due to a high line.

It’s happened a few times during the tournament, but luckily Rafael Marquez has stayed back to snuff out the danger. However, the 35-year-old defender probably won’t be able to contain all of the Dutch players pushing forward during counters.

It’s important that Francisco Rodriguez, Hector Herrera, or one of the midfielders, stays back to help out. El Tri will probably be able to dictate the tempo, but they too have a lot of speed out wide and through the middle. The Dutch have only conceded nine shots on average per match so far, so it’s vital that Mexico creates chances to test goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.

Costa Rica’s wide players

Again, Greece and Costa Rica are two teams that are dangerous on the break. The difference is that Los Ticos’ wide players have caused a lot of problems for their opponents. That’s their key to success versus the Greeks.

Bryan Ruiz was able to score against Italy by sneaking in from the flanks and past the defence without them even knowing. Christian Bolanos, Junior Diaz, and Cristian Gamboa were just as effective in that match and in others during the World Cup.

Ruiz and Bolanos also have the ability to play centrally, so if the wings are closed down, they can simply cut inside. The latter is usually a winger with FC Copenhagen, but has played as a centre midfielder a few times, which has clearly served him well in this tournament.

Greece’s fitness in midfield

A major factor in Greece’s win against Ivory Coast was their midfielders’ performance, especially Giannis Maniatis. No player on his team completed more tackles or made more interceptions than he did, he was everywhere.

Even the 37-year-old Giorgos Karagounis was running around tirelessly and contributing on both sides of the pitch. The youthfulness of Costa Rica might play a factor, but the fitness of the Greek midfield is going to be crucial.

The combined age of Greece’s midfield pair is 64 (compared to Costa Rica’s duo, which is 48_ including the 22-year-old Yeltsin Tejeda, who’s been marvelous during the World Cup. If Greece wants to assert themselves, they’ll need their midfield to help defending counter-attacks, and starting their own. That’s going to come down to how fit they’ll be.

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