Salvador (Brazil) (AFP) - Having lifted Costa Rica to their first ever World Cup quarter-final with a man-the-match display to help his country overcome Greece, keeper Keylor Navas now has the Netherlands' sharpshooters in his sights.
Navas' huge outstretched left hand to turn away Theofanis Gekas' well-struck penalty rounded off a fine individual performance as he and his Los Ticos teammates withstood a Greek avalanche after Oscar Duarte's red card with 25 minutes to go in normal time.
"This is something marvellous, one of the nicest things that has happened to me in my whole life," he said.
"When I saw that my teammates had confidence in me before the shootout started, it lifted me. We had suffered a lot. We played with the heart, we gave our lives out on the pitch.
"With one man less what we tried to do was get to penalties. I asked God if he would help me save one and that was how it went."
However, his success in the shootout wasn't by chance, but just another part of his meticulous preparation.
"We had studied their penalties, all this is down to hard work.
“We always knew there was a chance of it going to penalties and so we had to be prepared.”
The 27-year-old Levante goalkeeper's form comes as no shock to those who have seen him become arguably the best shot-stopper in all of La Liga last season, with the highest saves-to-shots ratio in the league ahead of the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Victor Valdes.
His 10 million euro ($13.7 million) buyout clause looks certain to be met by a host of suitors this summer, including La Liga champions Atletico Madrid as Courtois heads back to his parent club Chelsea.
Indeed the surprise of Costa Rica's glorious run, which also saw them top a group involving former world champions Uruguay, Italy and England, is that Navas wasn't needed to be a hero in the group stages.
A superbly organised outfit, thanks to Colombian manager Jorge Luis Pinto's influence, the central Americans have now just conceded once from open play in 400 minutes of football in Brazil.
And even when their defence has finally been opened up, Navas has been on hand to help guide his country to history.
Next up may be his toughest task of all, though, as Costa Rica face the highest scorers in the competition, the Netherlands.
The Dutch star trio of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder have proved experience can count too in a tournament where younger legs have generally won out in the brutal conditions with seven goals between them after just four matches.
However, Navas is no stranger to standing in the way of the best. He very nearly prised the Spanish title out of Atletico's hands by shutting them out in a 2-0 win for Levante in the final weeks of the season despite Diego Simeone's men taking 23 shots at goal.
"It’s my job to stop the opposition. I want more than anything to make my country proud. It’s not a case of stopping them, but helping my side," he said before the tournament on the prospect of facing Mario Balotelli, Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney.
Having seen them off, it will almost certainly fall on Navas once more to send another European superpower home and continue Costa Rica's fairytale run one step further.
- Sports & Recreation
- Costa Rica
- Keylor Navas