Netherlands 0 Costa Rica 0 (Netherlands won 4-3 on penalties)
Unlikely hero: Dutch stopper Tim Krul. Photo: Getty Images
Salvador: The Netherlands left it late when they mugged Mexico to win a place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup five days earlier, and they almost found themselves mugged in Salvador by Costa Rica before seeing off the unconsidered outsiders in a penalty shootout to progress to a World Cup semi-final meeting with Argentina next Wednesday in Sao Paulo.
The Dutch had dominated all but the first 20 of the 120 minutes of this game, hit the woodwork, rained in shot after shot and created chance after chance, but could not find a way past Tico goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who has been the hero of his country and looks a major contender to win the Golden Gloves award for best keeper of the tournament.
Robin van Persie celebrates converting his penalty. Photo: AP
- Costa Rica
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Robin Van Persie (120' mins), Arjen Robben (120' mins), Wesley Sneijder (120' mins), Dirk Kuyt (120' mins)||Scorers||Scorers||Players||Celso Borges (120' mins), Giancarlo González (120' mins), Christian Bolanos (120' mins)|
The game eventually hinged on another goalkeeper, however, Dutch substitute Tim Krul. With seconds left in extra time and penalties looming, Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal made World Cup history by taking off his number one, Jasper Cillessen, and replacing him with the Newcastle custodian.
Krul did not let his boss down, saving two of the Costa Rican penalties to ensure that his side progressed and the wonderful run of the Central Americans came to an end.
The coach had decided that the taller, long-armed Krul would be a better bet if it came to a penalty shootout, so he told Krul in advance but mentioned nothing to Cillessen so that he would not be ''disappointed'' before the game.
End of the adventure: Costa Rica's Bryan Ruiz is consoled after his penalty was saved. Photo: Reuters
Krul was given the likely Costa Rican penalty-taking order and briefed as to how they might take their spot-kicks, and it worked out perfectly for the Dutch coach.
''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.''
Robin van Persie missed a great chance to win the game in normal time. Photo: Reuters
But it was a close run thing. After two hours of football Navas and his teammates had kept the Dutch scoreless, denying stars like Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder at every turn. They had offered little in the way of threat themselves, but showed that organisation, commitment and some luck can take a team a long way, even if this was the afternoon their good fortune would eventually run out.
For all of the praise heaped - rightly - on strikers in this tournament, the Brazil World Cup has also been about the brilliance of goalkeepers.
And few have shone as brightly as Navas, the Spain-based shot-stopper whose exploits between the posts were a big part of the reason that his tiny, unfancied country had made it as far as the quarter-finals.
Another dive: Arjen Robben won a number of free-kicks for the Netherlands. Photo: AP
Navas had kept clean sheets against England and Italy, conceded only from the penalty spot against Uruguay, and had then produced a wonderful save in the shootout against Greece to ensure the outsiders' place in the last eight. It will be scant consolation to him or his colleagues, but history will record that he kept a clean sheet again this time.
The Levante goalkeeper was at it again throughout this match where the men in orange held sway but simply could not find a way past the Tico keeper.
Navas made numerous saves, diving to his right, diving bravely at the feet of onrushing attackers, saving with his own feet: it seemed that however the Dutch tried to breach his goal they would not succeed.
World Cup 2014: Netherlands v Costa Rica highlights
Tim Krul of the Netherlands celebrates saving the penalty shot of Michael Umana. Photo: Getty Images
The game began in cagey fashion with both teams feeling each other out, the Ticos set up to try and minimise the pace and skill of Robben on one wing and the prowess of Van Persie through the middle.
Van Gaal had rejigged his formation once again, starting Memphis Depay on the left of the front three, dropping playmaker Wesley Sneijder deeper.
Costa Rica had to do without the services of first-choice centre back Oscar Duarte, sent off after picking up two yellow cards in the round of 16 game against the Greeks.
Gradually the Dutch, stringing together passes, got on top. The Oranje held on to the ball, passing, probing, looking to set Robben off in space or give Van Persie the chance to get amongst the two Tico centre backs.
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto had warned Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov to be wary of the turbo charged Robben's tendency to collapse like a house of cards whenever anyone challenged him with any physicality.
There can be no more frightening sight for a defender than that of Robben hurtling towards them with the ball at his feet. The Bayern Munich winger goes quicker controlling the ball than many players do when they are at a flat out sprint, so its not surprising that he draws an inordinate number of fouls.
The problem is the exaggerated way he goes to ground, which so often looks as though he is milking even the slightest contact to gain an advantage he doesn't deserve.
His confession last weekend that he does sometimes exaggerate contact to draw free kicks and penalties only exacerbated the Robben issue before this game - especially after the furore occasioned by his team's late win over Mexico when, after contact from Rafa Marquez in the dying minutes for a legitimate penalty, he went over with the theatricality of a dolphin leaping for fish in a California theme park.
Robben was to be one of the key actors in this slow building drama, with Navas the star of the show - before Krul's unlikely, unexpected intervention.
The 27-year-old goalkeeper made the first of his big saves after some 22 minutes when he made a terrific stop to deny Van Persie, and then kept out the follow up shot from Sneijder.
A few minutes later he was in action again; after Costa Rica captain Bryan Luiz had lost the ball in midfield it was fed to the Manchester United frontman but Navas again proved equal to Van Persie's challenge this time with his feet.
Robben was a constant threat whenever he had the ball, charging at defenders and cutting in to lay off a pass or look to get a shot off himself; he eventually drew a yellow card for Junior Diaz after the referee booked the Tico midfielder for fouling the Dutch flyer.
From the resulting free kick Sneijder delivered a wonderful shot which Navas kept out with an equally impressive flying save, and shortly after the Costa Rica goalkeeper had to be smartly off his line once more to come out and bravely dive at Van Persie's feet when the ball was fed through to him.
It seemed like only a matter of time before The Netherlands got their noses in front. Costa Rica had offered little in the way of attacking threat, save for one free-kick that caused some consternation in the Dutch defence, and Joel Campbell was finding it difficult to make any lee way against the solid Dutch rearguard.
Jasper Cillessen, in contrast to Navas, barely had anything to do and it was hardly surprising that the half-time possession statistics showed The Netherlands had enjoyed 69 per cent posession.
Robben again was causing all kinds of mayhem shortly after the restart with a marauding run down the right and it took a combination of Michael Urmana and Celso Borges to stop him, the former earning himself a yellow card for his efforts.
The 30-year old took the free-kick himself with a neatly worked variation to the edge of the penalty area but Sneijder could only fire over.
The second half continued much as the first had finished, with wave after wave of orange attacks foundering on the rocks of Costa Rica's determined defence.
The outsiders forays were sporadic, with Joel Campbell going down in the box after some contact with Bruno Martins Indi, althouth Mr Irmatov was unimpressed.
But as the clock ticked past the hour mark with the scores still level the mental pressure on the Dutch, who had enjoyed so much posession, began to mount; similarly Costa Rica, having stayed in the game, would have started to believe that another even bigger upset was perhaps on the cards, although they were going to need much better finishing than Christian Bolanos' long range free kick which flew over the bar.
Martins Indi went into the referees notebook after he tugged on Ruiz's shirt, and this time Bolanos delivery was much better, with Johnny Acosta getting free at the far post to head over.
These were more encouraging signs for the Central Americans, who had been on the back foot for so long and kept in the game only because of the excellence of their goalkeeper.
Campbell made way for substitute front man Marcos Urena but it was Robben once more, with another energetic and skilful driving run down the right who almost created the chance to break the deadlock as he looked to play a one-two with Van Persie, only being denied by Yeltsin Tejeda's last gasp clearance.
Costa Rica began to show more enterprise as extra time loomed as a realistic prospect but it was still the Dutch with the whip hand.
Van Gaal made his first tactical switch inside the last quarter hour when he withdrew Depay and introduced Dynamo Kiev striker Jeremain Lens.
Another twisting Robben run produced a corner, which Costa Rica cleared while Christian Ganmboa was carried off on a stretcher, to be replaced by Dave Myrie, making his first appearance of the tournament.
Lens tested Navas again with a header, but the goalkeeper palmed to safety as the assistant referee raised his flag for offside.
Robben switched wings and immediately drew a free kick on the edge of the penalty area as Giancarlo Gonzalez tugged at his shirt as he sped past: for once Navas was beaten, but Sneijder's well placed shot struck the post and bounced to safety.
It was the closest the Dutch had yet come and they still had the momentum. The Costa Ricans failed to deal with another set piece and once again Navas had to come to their rescue with a fine block to deny Van Persie's close range shot as the Central Americans looked to hold out for extra time.
Van Persie had a wonderful opportunity to settle this game in the dying moments as Sneijder's curling cross beat the Tico defence but the Dutch captain could not make contact with the sort of chance he would normally be relied on to bury.
The game had drifted into stoppage time and with an extra 30 minutes looming Robben made one final surge down the right. Diaz caught him to five away yet another free kick, which this time Van Persie took only for Navas to punch clear.
In the ensuing scramble as the ball was laid back across goal no Dutch forward could get the touch to poke it over the line. Instead it fell to Daly Blind, whose angled drive looked certain to go in - until Tejeda somehow blocked the ball so that it bounced up, off the crossbar and out to safety.
It was a remarkable end to a game that began slowly and had its boring patches but ended in a frenzy of excitement with Holland constantly battering on the Costa Rican door but finding it impossible to quite force it open.
In extra time Navas was at it again, flinging himself to block a Ron Vlaar header from a corner as the Dutch continued to lay siege to the Tico goal.
It seemed the only tactic Pinto now had was to hold on for penalties and hope the inspired Navas could do the rest.
Yet another Robben shot produced yet another free kick in a dangerous position when the ball struck Diaz on the arm, but Sneijder's drive was blocked.
Costa Rica rocked and rolled as the Dutch searched for a way through, but held firm, getting numbers behind the ball and defending with extraordinary resolution and commitment through the first period of extra time where Cillessen in The Netherlands goal was a virtual spectator.
Striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar came on for defender Martins Indi to boost the Dutch firepower in the final 15 minutes as Van Gaal's team desperately tried to end this game before a shoot out was needed.
The Costa Ricans, with equal desperation, threw bodies and tired limbs in front of every Dutch attack to try and preserve their clean sheet. Huntelaar soon earned a yellow card after a collision with Navas as the goalkeeper came out to take another Dutch cross.
The Ticos had a great chance of their own when Marcos Urena burst through but Cillessen, so long a spectator, produced a fine save to deny him.
Van Gaal then pulled what would turn out to be his masterstroke with the shoot out staring him in the face, replacing Cillessen in goal with Krul.
It paid dividends when the Newcastle keeper dived to his left to palm away Ruiz's penalty when the scores were at 1-1 in the shootout. Robben gave Navas no chance to put the Dutch 2-1 up, but Gonzalez kept his nerve to keep the outsiders in it.
Sneijder made it three out of three for The Netherlands and although the Ticos remained alive for another kick it was all over when Krul dived once more to his left to keep out Umana's effort.
The wonderful, amazing, Costa Rican adventure had come to an end, while the Dutch, deservedly, march on.