The game was arguably one of the most one sided during the previews. The verdict? Netherlands were clear favourites and would trample Costa Rica. That being said, the game was Netherlands’ to lose, as Costa Rica had achieved plenty already and if they were to go home tonight, they could do so with their heads held high. Wesley Sneijder made his 16th appearance at a World Cup Finals, a Dutch record. Memphis Depay earned a start and for Costa Rica, suspended Duarte was replaced by Acosta.
It was a cagey first half with the Dutch controlling the ball for major parts and also creating the better chances. They started really brightly and maintained a high defensive line, giving the Costa Ricans no space whatsoever. Blind-Wijnaldum-Sneijder-Kuyt were extremely tidy in their passing. Arjen Robben was using his blistering pace to oust the Costa Rican backline and managed to conjure up a few good runs, with no good crosses. Kuyt was tireless and van Persie was very causal. The Dutch did manage good chances, with Keylor Navas stopping van Persie and Depay. Arjen Robben won a free kick and Sneijder’s shot was saved expertly by the keeper, who continued his superb run in the tournament. Costa Rica had chances to a minimal, one occasion was when Martins Indi held off Borges using 2 hands in the box but nothing was given. But the Ornaje’s high line prevented Costa Rica from finding too much space and every time they attacked, a curtain of Orange swept in and cleared any potential danger. The 3 man backline of Netherlands probably saw more of the ball than any other players in the first half. The game was like every other Quarter-final. Boring, and somewhat lacking flair. The Netherlands seem to be on top of things and with 4/4 shots on target in the half, a goal would be coming anytime soon. Netherlands had so much of the ball that they had attempted more passes in 38 minutes vs Costa Rica (247) than they managed in the full 90 vs Chile (228). The standout performer was Keylor Navas, who maintained the best shots/saves ratio of the World Cup with 88%. The game was running dry and was asking for a goal in the second half, and Louis van Gaal would want his trio of Depay-RvP-Robben to do marginally better.
The second half held more of the same, with the Dutch constantly attacking, and the disciplined and well organized Costa Rican defence shutting shop and not letting the Oranje army find a way through. Junior Acosta was commanding whilst his opposite number Junior Diaz was beaten by Robben time and again. Dirk Kuyt was industrious, Robben was tireless, and Sneijder was unlucky. His late free kick hit the post and Costa Rica held on. The Netherlands were very offensive and Jeremain Lens entered to try and break the resistance. However, he was constantly found offside and could not use his pace to full effect. Robin van Persie was denied by Keylor Navas and then his effort was cleared off the line in the dying moments. He was also stopped by the offside flag plenty of times, being caught offside 10 times. Robben and Sneijder whipped corner after corner but to no avail. At the end of normal time, it was goalless at Salvador and we would need 30 minutes more to sort this one out.
In extra time, the Costa Ricans looked slightly tired, while the Netherlands looked enterprising as every, trying to force a goal by hook or by crook. There wasn’t much going on, and Costa Rica’s Mourinho tactic was working perfectly. They had shut the free scoring Holland and it looked destined to be decided by penalties. Sneijder beat Navas once again, only to be denied by the bar once again. Then, came the talking poiunt of the game. With less than sixty seconds remaining in extra time, moments after Jasper Cillessen saved Netherlands by stopping Urena’s effort, he was brought off for Newcastle’s Tim Krul. Tim Krul was brought on for penalties. This plagued the Costa Rican players’ mind, who thought Tim Krul was a penalty specialist. He had saved only 2 out of the 20 penalties he had faced. Tim Krul looked calm and compoosed and Louis van Gaal seemed to know what he was doing. He had made a brave call, and now we would have penalties.
It ended 4-3 to Netherlands, who progressed. Tim Krul saved Bryan Ruiz and Unama’s penalties and guessed the right side in each of the 5 kicks. The Dutch were clinical in their shots, burying each in the corner, safely away from Navas’ reach. The masterstroke had paid off. It was a Krul ending for Costa Rica who had a splendid tournament. Cillessen who could have felt slighted by this substitution was the most jubilant and was the first of many to run to his fellow keeper and celebrate their triumph. Salvador had witnessed one of the most shrewd tactics ever, and one of the most dramatic games ever. Louis van Gaal would be in the limelight again, for his genius understanding of the game. He stripped the emotion out of the game and made cold, rational decisions that would benefit his team. In the shootouts, they say it about luck, but van Gaal and his team and changed the picture entirely. It was faith in his tactics and faith in #23 that had got Netherlands over the line. Krul guessed the correct side every time and it was a calculated move that paid off. The Netherlands qualified to their 3rd Semi Finals out of their last 4 World Cups and shattered many Costa RIcan hearts. Costa Rica were brave and were absolute winners. They bow out without losing a single game and that is a feat on its own. That being said, the Netherlands deserved to go through and van Gaal will look to hatch out another plan to stop The Albiceleste in the Semi-finals. Alex Sabella has a fine task on his hands, and Holland will be looking to continue their formidable run.
FIFA Man Of The Match: Keylor Navas Made a number of excellent stops and marshalled his area brilliantly, racing off his line on a number of occasions.
Our Man Of The Match: Tim Krul Made two excellent penalty saves to justify Van Gaal’s decision to throw him into the shootout.
Our Flop Of The Match: Bryan Ruiz Showed glimpses of his quality, but couldn’t quite find the incisive pass to carve apart the Costa Rica backline.