Netherlands set up a clash against Argentina after a mighty struggle against the Costa Ricans following Tim Krul heroics
Just as everyone predicted, the Netherlands will face Argentina in Sao Paolo but no one knew that they would ultimately find it so difficult to dispose of the plucky Costa Ricans. For the Dutch this match was supposed to be easy, but as they have proved all throughout the tournament, the Ticos did not give in without a fight. The Netherlands enjoyed a lot of the ball and on balance were the better side but a combination of the magnificent Keylor Navas and the heroic defenders in front of him managed to thwart the Oranje for more than two hours.
Ultimately this match required the dreaded lottery to decide who would face Messi and his cohorts on Wednesday.
Here are a few facts from this match in Salvador.
The World Cup continues to amaze
Just when one felt that this World Cup was finally producing attritional football, following the great drama in the group stages and round of 16, the Netherlands and Costa Rica game lifted us out of our slumber when the match clock struck eighty.
Wesley Sneijder struck the quintessential curler and dipper against the frame of the goal from a dead ball situation. He then provided a delightful chip which Van Persie missed all ends up from six yards out. To atone for his miss the Manchester United striker also struck the post when his angled drive was deflected by Yeltsin Tejeda deep into injury time.
It was as if the players were waiting for the match to enter its dying moments before coming back to life. After the excitement at the end of the normal time, the next period of great drama occurred deep in the second period of extra time. Marco Urena brilliantly beat a couple of players before spanking a goal bound effort which was saved by the feet of Dutch custodian Jasper Cillessen.
The brilliant Sneijder though continued to inspire the Oranje and he speared the ball towards the goal from the edge of the area only to be denied again by the crossbar.
The match then proceeded to the penalty shoot out when the Dutch found themselves another hero.
Van Gaal produces Krul masterstroke
With the World Cup being played in extreme temperatures many were wondering behind the Netherlands’ rationale of using only two substitutes out of the quota of three. But those people had discounted the fact that Louis Van Gaal is an exceptional and astute manager who is not scared of taking the big decisions.
Jasper Cillessen has had a fine World Cup, not an amazing one but he has been steady under the sticks and has done the job when called upon. The Ajax stopper must have been devastated when the 4th official flashed his number at the end of extra time. He must have wondered that goalkeepers are not substituted, they either finish a match or get carried off on a stretcher.
But this is where the brilliance of Van Gaal comes in. He must have seen something in Tim Krul which must have prompted him to save a substitute just in case he needed the Newcastle United man late on. Krul’s record though in saving penalties has not been great as he has kept out only two out of his last twenty. But Van Gaal probably felt that his 6’4” frame, a whole 2 inches more than Cillessen could make the difference.
Those two inches ultimately did make the difference as Krul saved the second and fifth penalties to book a semi final spot for the Netherlands.
When analyzing Van Gaal’s decision using cold and hard logic and leaving aside all emotion, the choice of replacing Cillessen with Krul was a masterstroke. A decision which most managers would not take, but this is what makes the Dutch tactician special.
Costa Rica can leave with their head held high
The Costa Ricans entered this World Cup as rank outsiders. When the draw was made to decide the groups many could have been forgiven for thinking that this Central American nation would just make up the numbers. The Costa Ricans were placed in a group containing three former champions in the form of the Italians, the English and the Uruguayans.
But Jorge Luis Pinto’s men captivated the whole of Brazil with their electrifying performances. They soaked up the pressure especially in the matches against Italy and Uruguay and then counter punched mainly through the pace and energy of Joel Campbell.
Mentally too they were strong as they held their nerve when the Greeks equalized right on the stroke of full time in the round of 16.
Against the Netherlands too they battled on gamely despite the gulf in quality between the two sides and nearly managed to pull off an upset which would have shaken the tournament to its very foundations.
Though they ultimately ran out of steam the Ticos have made a big impression on the 2014 FIFA World Cup.