Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal took one of the biggest gambles in the history of soccer’s World Cup last night, and it paid off as his team secured a semifinal berth against Argentina.
His squad couldn’t score against Costa Rica in 120 minutes of play at Salvador’s Fonte Nova Arena, and as the quarterfinal moved toward a penalty shootout, he brought in backup goalkeeper Tim Krul to replace Jasper Cillessen.
Krul, dressed all in green, made two saves as the Dutch won the shootout 4-3 to vindicate the coach’s decision -- a move that had never been seen before in the competition’s 84-year history.
“We felt that Tim Krul would be the most appropriate keeper to stop penalties,” said van Gaal, who flashed a lucky orange bracelet on his right wrist in the post-match press conference. “You would have seen that Tim Krul dove into right corner time and time again, all of us are a tiny bit proud this trick has helped us through.”
Van Gaal coached Bayern Munich and Ajax in Amsterdam and will take over at Manchester United (MANU) after the World Cup. His approach has been questioned by former players and the Dutch media. Newspapers including De Telegraaf have criticized a strategy of ceding possession to rivals even though the tactic brought a 5-1 win over defending champion Spain in the competition opener, and the Dutch topped their first phase pool.
His squad hasn’t got as many talented players as previous national teams and wouldn’t be successful playing the system used in earlier tournaments, van Gaal said before the game.
Costa Rica was in the tournament quarterfinals for the first time after escaping a group with three former champions -- Italy, Uruguay and England. The Central Americans last night rarely sent attackers forward, forcing the Netherlands to break through a packed defense.
Within 30 minutes the Netherlands had more passes than 197 they completed in the entirety of the 2-0 group stage victory over Chile. Chances came too.
Led by the speedy Arjen Robben, the Netherlands had first-half opportunities through Robin van Persie, Memphis Depay and Wesley Sneijder. Though none could beat Keylor Navas, the Costa Rica goalkeeper who has saved more shots than any other in the tournament and kept out two penalties in a shootout win over Greece in the last round.
Costa Rica occasionally created danger with its rare attacks. One move ended with a close penalty appeal that was turned down by referee Ravshan Irmatov when Bruno Martins Indi barged into Joel Campbell. Costa Rica made an even stronger appeal in extra time when substitute Marcos Urena went down under a challenge from Ron Vlaar. Substitute Marco Urena almost gave Costa Rica a shock lead in the 117th minute but Cillessen made a diving stop.
Van Gaal and his team had a frustrating night, as Sneijder hit the crossbar twice, and van Persie had a ball cleared off the line with Navas out of position.
“I don’t know how much of the ball we had and how many shots against the woodwork and how many chances we had,” said van Gaal. “It goes to show a goal is the most important thing. Nothing else counts, especially in a tournament like this.”
It looked like Costa Rica’s coach Jorge Luis Pinto got what he wanted when his team held out to take the game into a shootout. Just before Irmatov called time, van Gaal made his move by bringing on Krul.
Krul had only saved two of 20 penalties for his club Newcastle, though stood tall and dived correctly to stop penalties from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana. Krul goaded the opponents as they lined up to take shots.
“We had discussed it with Tim,” said van Gaal. “He knew about their penalties because he needed to be prepared. It worked out. If it hadn’t, it would have been my mistake.”
Krul, who’d been told to keep the plan secret, didn’t expect to come on because his teammates had been so dominant.
“I had spent the whole match on the bench. We had chance after chance and had not taken them,” he said. “Then you’re suddenly thrown in and don’t have time to think, I saved two penalties and now we’re in the semi-finals of the World Cup.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Salvador at firstname.lastname@example.org
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