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The Netherlands into World Cup semifinals after defeating Costa Rica in Salvador
Game finishes 0-0 but the Dutch win penalty shootout 4-3
Louis van Gaal's team will now play Argentina in semifinals on Wednesday
Argentina beat Belgium 1-0 in Saturday's other quarterfinal
It was supposed to be a formality, but the Netherlands was made to sweat against Costa Rica before eventually overcoming the 2014 World Cup’s surprise package and booking a place in the semifinals Saturday.
Substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul was the hero, saving two penalties to secure a 4-3 shootout victory after this tense, nervous quarterfinal finished goalless.
Incredibly, the Newcastle man was brought on in the 29th minute of extra time with the sole job of denying “Los Ticos” in the spot-kick showdown.
It earned the Dutch a second consecutive semifinals appearance, having lost to Spain in the title match four years ago.
Now the aim for Louis van Gaal’s men is to go one better than in South Africa.
Standing in their way of another final appearance will be Argentina, which defeated Belgium in the day’s earlier game thanks to a solitary early goal from Gonzalo Higuain.
Wednesday’s clash will be a repeat of the 1978 final, which Argentina won 3-1, and the dramatic 1998 quarterfinal in which the Dutch triumphed thanks to a spectacular Dennis Bergkamp winner.
On the performances of both teams Saturday, it will be difficult to pick a winner.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots described Argentina as “ordinary” in his post-match press conference earlier in the day.
Likewise, there was little that was obviously special about the Dutch against Costa Rica – but Van Gaal’s players have recorded some impressive results at this World Cup so far.
A thrilling 5-1 demolition of reigning world champion Spain was followed up with two closely fought victories over Australia and Chile.
The round of 16, meanwhile, produced a dramatic late win over an impressive Mexico side in the oppressive heat of Fortaleza.
In Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, the Oranje was faced with another Latin American opponent – a Costa Rica team which was only the fourth side from the CONCACAF region to reach a World Cup quarterfinal.
Solid defensive displays and tactical astuteness from its wily manager, Jorge Luis Pinto, had brought Los Ticos this far.
Nobody expected them to get out out of a pool containing Italy, England and Uruguay, let alone as group winners.
A heroic display with 10 men against Greece in the round of 16, winning a shootout, ensured Pinto’s team would progress further than ever before.
But in Van Gaal, Pinto had met his match.
The Dutch master, who will take over the reigns at Manchester United once the World Cup is over, is one of the most celebrated European coaches of the last 30 years.
Throughout the tournament he has switched his style, tactics and personnel depending on the demands of the opponents.
A rapid counter-attacking style was deployed against Spain to devastating effect while striker Dirk Kuyt was effectively utilized as a defender against Chile to stifle the South Americans’ impressive forward line.
Here, Van Gaal adopted a similarly prudent approach.
Both sides started cautiously, standing off and refraining from pressing until entering each other’s territory.
Whether this was down to a mark of respect or a pacing exercise in the Salvador heat was unclear, but the Dutch were the first to break the tentative rhythm.
Robin van Persie was played through by Memphis Depay but Keylor Navas, who has performed admirably throughout the tournament, blocked low to his left before springing up to gather Wesley Sneijders follow-up.
Moments later Navas was at it again, saving low from Depay who had been set up by Van Persie.
Costa Rica had its own chances, though they were less clear cut.
A series crosses peppered Jasper Cillessen’s goal but there was little to concern the men in orange until a flick from Celso Borges bounced invitingly across goal with no Costa Rican striker to tuck home.
The Dutch responded with a free kick from Sneijder that was spectacularly clawed away by Navas shortly after.
After the break, both managers looked to break the stalemate by shuffling their pack.
Marcos Urena replaced Joel Campbell up front for Los Ticos while the Dutch also made a striking change, taking off Depay for Jeremain Lens.
Then, just as it seemed the game would never break from a crawling pace, it burst into life.
Arjen Robben, who Costa Rica looked to double up on all night, burst forward and, despite accentuating what was minimal contact from Giancarlo Gonzalez, won a free kick on the edge of the box.
Sneijder stepped up and rattled the post with a vicious swerving shot before the ball was eventually cleared.
All of a sudden, the Dutch were energized and Los Ticos were rocking.
Another free kick caused chaos in the Costa Rica box and the ball dropped to Van Persie, who fired in a shot that Navas again did well to block.
As the clock struck 90 minutes the Dutch had their best chance of all as Daley Blind’s low cross evaded everyone until it landed at the feet of captain Van Persie at the back post.
The Manchester United striker struck the ball goalwards with Navas stranded but his shot was met by the retreating, Yeltsin Tejeda who somehow used his body to deflect the ball onto the bar and away.
After what was for so long a sterile contest, the brief break before extra time barely seemed enough for the now clearly tiring players to catch their breath.
The Dutch again started on the front foot as Navas made another fine save from a Ron Vlaar header.
From the resultant corner, the keeper was almost caught out as he flapped at Sneijder’s cross.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar was introduced at the break for defender Bruno Martins Indi as Van Gaal attempted to avoid the dreaded penalty shootout.
The striker, whose injury-time penalty won the day against Mexico,was soon booked for crashing into Navas when challenging for a high ball.
Costa Rica threatened next as substitute Urena broke free at the edge of the box, working a yard of space before firing a low shot that Cillessen dived to push away.
Even closer was to follow at the other end.
As the clock ticked down, Sneijder peeled away at the far edge of the box before setting himself and unleashing another brilliant curling strike.
For once Navas was helpless. But again the woodwork came to his rescue as the midfielder’s shot bounced away of the crossbar.
Penalties it would be – but not before Van Gaal took the unorthodox decision to replace Cillessen with Krul for the shootout.
“There is no question about who will start next game, it will be Cillessen,” Van Gaal said. “But we felt Krul was the better choice here.
“We told Krul that he would be a possibility for the penalties, but we didn’t tell Cillessen, as we didn’t want to ruin his preparation.”
It was a bold call that would prove decisive.
Krul prowled around his area in an attempt to psyche out the Costa Rica penalty takers, pointing to his eye to let them know he’d done his homework.
Maybe he had, maybe he hadn’t. But his efforts to unnerve his opponents worked.
Krul first dived low to his left to save from Bryan Ruiz and when Dirk Kuyt drilled the Netherlands’ fourth spot-kick home, Michael Umana knew he had to score to keep his side in the competition.
Sadly for Umana and the tiny Central American nation of five million souls, he couldn’t, as Krul again went low to his left to push the spot-kick round the post and end the dream of these most valiant of underdogs.
“We cannot blame anyone because to be there at that time is not easy,” said Navas, who was named man of the match for the third time at Brazil 2014.
“Our rivals did their job in the penalty shootout and we didn’t.”
Pinto admitted his team had been “lucky throughout the game” but expressed his great pride.
“We are not a world football power but we have done very important things here,” the Colombian said.
“We go home proud of what we have done and I want to express my gratitude to the Brazilian people.”