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Concacaf keepers all in demand
by Paul Kennedy, June 28th, 2014 11:10PM

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TAGS:  costa rica, greece, mexico, netherlands, world cup 2014

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[WORLD CUP: Spotlight] Mexico and Costa Rica could meet in the first match of Concacaf teams in the World Cup quarterfinals or later, but first they'll have to get past Greece and the Netherlands. El Tri will face one of the tournament's top teams in the Dutch; the Ticos will be favored against Greece. In their favor, Mexico and Costa Rica have two of the hottest and most sought-after goalkeepers at the World Cup.

Netherlands-Mexico

June 29 in Fortaleza
Game 51: Netherlands vs. Mexico
ESPN, Univision/UDN noon ET

STORYLINE. The Netherlands will send the World Cup's most lethal offense up against El Tri, one of three teams to allow only one goal in the group stage. Indeed, it went 266 minutes without conceding a goal before Ivan Perisic scored a late consolation goal for Croatia in the final group game on Monday.

Few in Europe gave the Netherlands much of a chance to repeat its performance of 2010 when it won six straight games before losing to Spain in the final. To protect an inexperienced backline, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal has reconfigured the Oranje in a 5-3-2 formation with three central defenders and two outside backs and built the attack around Arjen Robben, who delivered with three goals in the first two games and an assist in the 2-0 win over Chile that meant the Dutch avoided Brazil in the second round.

The Dutch will also have Robin van Persie back after being suspended for the Chile game. He matched Robben with two goals against Spain and one against the Netherlands. Robben and van Persie make the Dutch a favorite over El Tri, which has lost in the round of 16 in the last five World Cups.

PLAYER TO WATCH. Guillermo Ochoa quickly established himself in Mexico when he debuted for Club America, Mexico City's biggest club, at the age of 18, but for years he was known internationally only for being on the cover of EA Sports' FIFA video games.

This is Ochoa's third World Cup but the first in which he has started. He was the No. 3 keeper in 2006 at the age of 20 and the backup to Oscar Perez four years ago in South Africa. Memo started in only four of Brazil's 18 qualifiers and wasn't picked to start in Brazil until the eve of the tournament by Miguel Herrera ahead of Jesus Corona but he had the game of the tournament in goal when he held off Brazil to a 0-0 tie in El Tri's second game. “It felt as though the Virgin of Guadalupe was with Ochoa all the way," said Brazilian Dani Alves. "He saved everything.”

The 28-year-old Ochoa's success on the international stage could not come at a better time. After toiling for tiny club Ajaccio in France's Ligue 1 for the last three seasons (see video of his greatest saves), he's a free agent and will seek a move off the island of Corsica following the World Cup. He won't lack for suitors this summer.




Costa Rica-Greece

June 29 in Recife
ESPN, Univision/UDN 4 p.m. ET

STORYLINE. Costa Rica favored in the knockout stage? Who'd have imagined the Ticos would even be around after being drawn with with England, Italy and Uruguay? Well, they won Group D ahead of the three former World Cup champions.

The reward for their deserved first-place finish in the group is a match against Greece, considered one of the weakest teams in the final 16 and only alive thanks to a penalty kick by Georgios Samaras in stoppage time after a foolish challenge by Ivory Coast's Giovanni Sio. ''We will give to Greece all the respect it deserves,'' said Costa Rica's Colombian coach, Jorge Luis Pinto. ''It is a team that can indeed defend well and can score goals, and it's difficult to control them.''

Costa Rica's star is Joel Campbell, whom Arsenal has shipped out on loan for the last three seasons. The Greeks know all about him -- Campbell played in 2013-14 for Olympiakos, which has four players on the Greek World Cup team.

PLAYER TO WATCH. If Ochoa had the game of the tournament in goal against Brazil, Keylor Navas had the save of the tournament for Costa Rica, tipping away Diego Forlan's shot headed for the far post at the end of the first half of the Uruguay opener. If the Celeste had gone into the break with a 2-0 lead, it might have been a very different World Cup for the Ticos.

Like Ochoa, Navas has been toiling at a small European club -- Levante in Spain. He had originally moved to Spain to play for Albacete, where Luis Conejo, a star of Costa Rica's 1990 World Cup team, had played. But he is well known in La Liga for his work with Levante. He led La Liga in saves in 2013-14 (see amazing double save on Lionel Messi) and conceded fewer goals than any other keeper except those of the four teams headed to next season's Champions League.

Navas, 27, could be playing in the Champions League as he has attracted a lot of attention from the likes of Spanish champion Atletico Madrid and English runner-up Liverpool.



1 comment
  1. Mark Hardt
    commented on: June 29, 2014 at 10:24 a.m.
    Maybe it is the popularity of baseball in North-Central America with the hand eye coordination.

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