The Netherlands have survived a typically spirited fight from Central American qualifiers Costa Rica, beating the minnow nation 4-3 on penalties to book a place in their second consecutive FIFA World Cup semi-final.
The absolute surprise packets of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Costa Rica were expected to play three pool matches and be on the next flight home having been drawn alongside England, Uruguay and Italy in Group D, but instead excelled; claiming two wins and one draw before defeating Greece in the Round of 16.
Favoured by many to half Los Ticos incredible run of form with a resounding victory, The Netherlands had tasted nothing but success in the run to the quarterfinals; breezing through each of their Group B matches and beating Mexico 2-1 in arguably the most well-contested Round of 16 showdown.
Needing to break from the gates in similarly aggressive fashion to that which has already delivered their best performance at a World Cup, Costa Rica immediately took up possession and played the ball into the Dutch half and creating several notable chances for standout striker Joel Campbell, who appeared to lack only a final touch.
Unable to maintain the constant barrage on the goal of Jasper Cillessen, Costa Rica was forced onto the back foot at the 20 minute mark and were unable to again mount a legitimate attacking raid on The Netherlands in the first half; who were also unable to break the deadlock, finding the break with scores level.
Returning from the break in similarly impressive form, The Netherlands immediately launched into the Costa Rican half and were unlucky not to find the net almost immediately when the impressive strike force of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie combined, only to be stopped by Ticos talisman Keylor Navas.
Having kept clean sheets against Italy and Uruguay and conceded just one from the spot against Uruguay, Navas played a huge part in his nation reaching the final eight of the 2014 World Cup and was again an impenetrable force between the sticks against the Oranje; holding out raid after raid and allowing Costa Rica to force extra time; scores still locked upon the conclusion of injury time.
Continuing to somehow withstand the potent Dutch attack, Costa Rica, who did not look like scoring for the last 100 minutes of play, had put themselves in with a great opportunity of making the World Cup final four in forcing a penalty shootout and a seemingly even playing field.
In what is sure to go down as one of the best coaching plays of the 2014 World Cup, Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal substituted first choice keeper Cillessen with Newcastle United shot-stopper Tim Krul with just seconds left of play; deciding the taller, long-armed option would add to The Netherlands’ chances.
Not letting his manager down, Krul stepped up for his nation, leaving nothing to chance by pulling off to spectacular saves to see the Oranje into a semi-final showdown with in-form South American outfit Argentina.
Revealing he had prepared Krul for the chance of penalties prior to the match, Van Gaal told the waiting press he was thrilled the last-minute substitution had paid dividends.
”With Tim Krul you know he has this long reach, and I am a bit proud of that. We said nothing to Jasper because we didn’t want before the match for him to be faced with this information as it would be disappointing for him,” Van Gaal said.
”But every keeper has specific qualities and we felt that Tim had a longer reach and better track record with penalties than Jasper. We had discussed it with Tim Krul, and the order of Costa Rica and how they would take their penalties and he had to be prepared. Fortunately it worked out.”
While yet to drop a match at the 2014 World Cup, The Netherlands are currently offered as $3.10 outsiders to beat Argentina and progress to the final on July 13th with leading online bookie Ladbrokes.com.au.