There has been much wringing of hands down at The Emirates since Robin van Persie left to join Manchester United in August 2012. Olivier Giroud is all very well, they say, but he cannot carry the team to the glory that they so desperately seek on his own. If only they had a top-class striker on their books, they say, maybe, perhaps, an international in his early twenties who has been toughening himself up with spells out on loan in Ligue 1, La Liga and in the Greek Super League, with a spell at Olympiakos topped off by a long range effort against Manchester United. Joel Campbell, who signed for Arsenal in 2011, has been something of a revelation at this World Cup, with a storming performance against Uruguay topped off by a fine goal. He has dropped off a little since then, with a couple of quieter games against Italy and England, but against Greece, he was back approaching form, powerful, tricky, alert and direct, at least until Costa Rica went down to ten men and he was unable to hold up the ball as well as his team needed him to. Lee Dixon shared on the television commentary that Arsene Wenger had told him that he had nearly sold him; if Campbell builds on the potential he has shown in Brazil, in a couple of years’ time, Wenger might yet find that he still has to do so.
Football, the great global game, has become insular. The Premier League (with reported viewing figures of over a billion people in Asia, for example), the Champions League, La Liga – that, it seems, is where the real action (and the money) is. As every new talent emerges, it is sucked towards Barcelona, or Real Madrid, or Manchester United, or Chelsea. Neymar managed to make it out of his teens before being snapped up by Barcelona, but such forbearance is a rarity, and in any case, everyone knew that it was only ever a matter of time, his agent, in 2010, saying that “he wants to become the best player in the world. The chances of him doing that while playing in Brazil are zero.” What relevance this to Costa Rica? Fernando Santos has likened them to his own adopted country in 2004, an “unknown team” which secured a “historical achievement”. Needless to say, the scale of Greece’s achievement is unlikely to be repeated by Los Ticos in 2014; but their performances in this World Cup have shown that their players can be a force to be reckoned with. World Cups have a habit of bringing players who had previously had something more of a local reputation to prominence – who signed any South Koreans before 2002? – and the Giancarlo Gonzalezes, the Cristian Gamboas, the Central and South American talent currently plying its trade at home, in the MLS, in Norway, have seized this opportunity to exhibit their talents on a world stage.
This was Greece’s first-ever appearance in the knockout stage of a World Cup. They did not come into this match expecting to win – so much so, in fact, that their manager’s contract expired on the day after the game. However, Greece, it seems, do not go into any match expecting to win. Their coach, Fernando Santos, called on them beforehand to “stay tight in defence”; and while they had had their moments going forward in the first hour of proceedings, it took Costa Rica to go down to ten men before they showed anything beyond being as good as his word. While Kostas Manolas in particular was a commanding presence at the back, Georgios Samaras was often ploughing a lone and lonely furrow up front, with Christodoulopoulos pulling out wide and Salpingidis mostly anonymous until a 37th minute appearance at the far post when he should have scored. Until they were both a goal down and a man up, there was not nearly enough attacking support from central midfield, with shots too often being taken on from so far out that it would be stretching a point to describe them as pot shots. They were invited to attack with Samaras, Mitroglou and Gekas on the pitch and against 10 men; and eventually, to their credit, they managed to take up the invitation, before falling short at the very last. Hell, at least they got further than England.
MORE: Man United latest news
MORE: Arsenal latest news
MORE: Chelsea latest news
MORE: Liverpool latest news