Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas spoke of a night for his children to remember after the 27-year-old played a starring role in his team's FIFA World Cup victory on penalties against Greece in the last 16.
Down to ten men following the second-half dismissal of Oscar Duarte, the Ticos – who had led through captain Bryan Ruiz's 52nd minute opener – were crestfallen after Sokratis Papastathopoulos's added-time effort for the 2004 European champions sent the game into extra time.
A string of impressive Navas saves helped the Central American side hold out until the shoot-out, however. Once there, it was his stop from his former Levante UD team-mate Fanis Gekas that proved pivotal before Michael Umana sent the Group D winners through 5-3 to their first quarter-final, against the Netherlands in Salvador, on Saturday.
"That was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced," said Navas, formerly of Albacete Balompié and Deportivo Saprissa. "We were really up against it during the match but we played with big hearts and gave our absolute all out there on the pitch. We studied Greece's [previous] penalties beforehand; we worked on it. We knew there would be a chance of things being decided by a shoot-out so we were aware we had to be prepared."
His performance in Recife capped a memorable season for Navas, who excelled in Spain with a Levante side that boasted the best defensive record outside the Liga's top-four finishers. Aided by Navas's 16 clean sheets in 37 top-flight appearances, the Valencia-based outfit ended the 2013/14 campaign in tenth place and left coach Joaquín Caparrós full of praise for the San Isidro native, now in his third season at the club.
"He's a true professional; he's in great condition, works a lot and knows that nobody has gifted him anything," Caparrós explained. "He is Levante's first-choice on merit. He should have a long career in the game and is capable of excelling at any team in Europe."
Winning his 58th cap this weekend is Navas's next goal, though events at the Arena Pernambuco on Sunday are certain to stay with him for a long time to come. "We should feel more than proud after what we have achieved," said Navas, part of the Levante team that reached the UEFA Europa League round of 16 in 2012/13. "It was a fantastic thing to see my team-mates looking so confident before striking each of their [successful] penalties.
"Prior to [the shoot-out], the [technical staff] told me that I should fight for my children, so that they would remember this forever. I am really thankful towards those who appreciate my work and who encourage me."
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