Netherlands 0-0 Costa Rica (4-3 penalties): Van Gaal’s golden substitution

“Louis van Gaal has a golden dick,” Arjen Robben remarked of his coach earlier on in the World Cup and, after the Netherlands disposed of Costa Rica in the quarter-final of the tournament, one would be forgiven for starting to believe it.

In a completely surprising and thrilling World Cup campaign, it’s only fitting that the Dutch continue into the semi-finals of the tournament amidst a great deal of drama. The Dutch have exceeded all expectation in the tournament so far with Van Gaal’s tactical changes and alien but extremely effective formation making him the key man beside Robin can Persie and Arjen Robben. Of course, then, it had to be the coach who made the difference again in the quarter-final tie.

The competition has shown one thing about the next Manchester United manager – he has a touch of pure magic. That notion was intensified a great deal in the final minutes of their quarter-final against Costa Rica.

With the game taken into extra-time and a penalty shootout approaching,  Costa Rica striker Marcos Urena took the ball forward, releasing a shot which was well kept out by Cillessen – registering the Central American side’s first shot on target for the entire game after 117 minutes. Despite that excellent save from Cillessen, who has had a solid tournament so far, the Dutch coach made one final change – taking off the Ajax shot stopper to replace him with Tim Krul solely for the penalty shootout. It seemed harsh on Cillessen and completely bizarre by Van Gaal.

However, as Krul walked up to face the first spot-kick of Celso Borges, it seemed quite clear why he had done it. Krul was cocky, big and brave, talking to the midfielder, trying to get a psychological edge over him. He did it with absolutely every player in white who stepped up. Whether or not it had any real effect is impossible to tell, but it is clear that was the motivation behind it and if it failed to affect the opponents, then the 26-year-old’s shot stopping ability did the rest. While Dirk Kuyt, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder did their jobs perfectly by converting from 12 yards, Krul did his too – keeping out Bryan Ruiz and then Michael Umana to finish the nerve-wracking encounter off.

The substitution was a piece of genius from Van Gaal. Cillessen had done nothing wrong in the whole tournament, but has never saved a penalty in senior level football, but Krul’s record of two saves from 20 at Newcastle is nothing special either. In fact, Michel Vorm’s record is the best of the three. However, the 62-year-old believed in the Magpies keeper and saw enough in him to place the weight of the entire nation on his shoulders for the shootout.

It was an excellent climax on top of an excellent climax. The game was abysmal for the first hour, but the excitement and the drama increased exponentially in the final 30 minutes, boiling over onto extra time, with the stress barometer entering the danger zone as the shootout got underway.

While completely dominating possession, Netherlands were far too slow in the final third against a deep-sitting Costa Rica team. While they did create chances, Van Persie, Memphis Depay and Sneijder could only send tame shots towards the excellent Kaylor Navas.

Depay and Robben charged forward with speed in the first half, looking to create something for Van Persie. However, Costa Rica’s defenders did remarkably well to track their runs and snuff out attacks, forcing Depay wide and making it difficult for him to cross and shoot and keeping Van Persie completely isolated and out of the game. Van Persie was mainly involved when he was drifting offside or missing key chances.

Kuyt, excellent in his first two performances as a left wing-back but moved over to the right side for this game, was very wasteful in possession and had absolutely no understanding with Robben on the left wing, seeing many attacks come to an end just as they were picking up steam but never stopped and when he was linking up well he added a lot to the team. Furthermore, it was the famous workhorse who stepped up for the Oranje’s final penalty – placing it perfectly into the corner.

Just like with the game against Mexico, the Oranje ensured a nerve-wracking end to the game. The final 30 minutes were completely at odds to the rest of the game. After a slow opening hour lacking any penetration, they were suddenly showing some urgency and attacking potency, but were ultimately unproductive.

Sneijder had Navas beaten with a free-kick, only to be denied by the post, as it bounced back into the box, no one could divert it home. Shortly afterwards, Van Persie looked to bring down a long pass, but lost possession immediately. Moments later, the Galatasaray player sent a cross in which landed perfectly for Van Persie, but the Manchester United striker failed to connect with it and the golden opportunity passed by.

Then, a low pass from Daley Blind across the face of goal was missed by everyone, ending up at the back post at the feet of Van Persie. It seemed Van Gaal’s men were about to steal it in injury time once again, but the striker’s shot was stopped on the line by Yeltsin Tejeda, bouncing off of his thigh and striking the bar.

Defensively, the Oranje were completely untested. Cillessen didn’t have a single save to make in the game until the 117th minute as he and the defence had the easiest evening they will in their entire careers.

The Dutch pressure continued into extra-time, with Ron Vlaar seeing a header pushed wide by Navas.

Costa Rica’s main threat came from Bolanos eight minutes before the end of the game who drove towards goal, only to be blocked out, the Central Americans burst forward once more, earning a corner, which was wasted completely. It went crazy shortly after, though, when Marcos Urena took the ball forward, releasing a shot which was well kept out by Cillessen – Costa Rica’s first shot on target for the entire game.

At the other end, Sneijder took the ball at the edge of the box, smashing towards goal, again beating Navas, but again being denied by the woodwork.

When Krul was brought on, it seemed a very strange move from Van Gaal and Cillessen didn’t take it well at all. The Newcastle player revealed that it had been planned beforehand, but the ousted stopper was clearly in the dark over it.

Krul made sure he was a nuisance to every Costa Rica player walking up, trying his hardest to get into their heads. Ruiz and Umana fell victim to his reflexes and maybe his mind-games, while the four Oranje takers sent their spot kicks perfectly into the net.

After an extremely difficult and tense affair, the Dutch head into their semi-final against Argentina, looking to make it two finals in a row.

Heading into the tournament, even heading into the second round, this looked impossible. Now, though, through the power of Van Gaal and his golden …. brain, the Oranje are edging closer.

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