Netherlands – Costa Rica: A view from the opposition

Having come from behind late on to beat Mexico in the second round, Netherlands are continuing to shock and surprise pundits and media alike who gave them little hope of getting beyond the group stages before the World Cup kicked off.

On Saturday, Louis van Gaal’s side face another team who have surpassed all expectations. Costa Rica were expected to be the whipping boys of Group D which also included Italy, Uruguay and England. However, Jorge Luis Pinto’s side shocked the world by finishing top of the group with seven points, conceding one goal.

The Central Americans then played out a tight second round game against Greece, taking the lead through Bryan Ruiz before Oscar Duarte was sent off, allowing Greece to push forward and steal the equaliser in injury time.

Costa Rica were able to finish the job on penalties, progressing to set up a meeting with the Oranje to battle it out for a place in the last four.

BeNeFoot caught up with Costa Rican football expert Eduardo Mendez to find out more about the side and how he thinks Saturday’s game will go.

Costa Rica have played remarkably well having never been expected to get out of their group. However, England, Uruguay and Italy were all somewhat underwhelming, how much more of a challenge do the Netherlands present?

A significant challenge. Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto has publicly expressed his admiration for the Netherlands’ attack, calling it a “swift and powerful” one. Against Uruguay, Costa Rica benefited from not having to face the creative genius of Luis Suarez. That won’t be the case on Saturday. Neither Greece, Uruguay, Italy nor England possess the same raw pace and power of the Netherlands.

Will Costa Rica have any special plans to contain Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben?

Pinto’s aggressive high line has drawn the opposition offside more than any other team in the tournament (28). Greece alone succumbed to that tactic 10 times in the Round of 16. Stymying the counter-attacking runs of Arjen Robben is easier said than done, but the offside trap will be Costa Rica’s first line of defense against Robin van Persie.

With Netherlands playing in a counter-attacking style and key player Nigel de Jong missing giving up a lot of space in the midfield, do you expect Costa Rica to try and dominate in the centre of the park or will they sit deep?

Most assumed Costa Rica would sit deep during the group stages, myself included. That wasn’t the case then and that won’t be the case now. Pinto’s been adamant about taking it to the opposition this World Cup, controlling the midfield with Yeltsin Tejeda and Celso Borges. On paper, it reads like a suicidal approach, but all 23 players have bought into his system. Tejeda will attempt to be the disruptive force. Borges will look to make sense of our possession and guide it forward.

What are the weaknesses of the Costa Rica team that Netherlands can target?

With no Oscar Duarte, the right side of Costa Rica’s back line is ripe for the picking. Louis Van Gaal would be better suited starting his team in a 4-3-3 rather than his favored 5-3-2. Greece were smart enough to exploit Oscar Duarte’s inability to defend 1v1. They just couldn’t fully take advantage of it in the end. If there was ever a time for Van Gaal to give Memphis Depay a start, it would be now. His ability to run down the left wing with pace and the ball at his feet is a nightmarish thought for all Ticos.

While De Jong’s absence is a huge loss for the Netherlands, how much of a loss is that of Oscar Duarte for Costa Rica and who will replace him?

It’s a significant loss. Neither Johnny Acosta nor Roy Miller were in Pinto’s favor entering the knockout rounds. Miller would’ve been the likely replacement, but he’s been ruled out of the World Cup with a muscle injury in his left leg. Pinto has to scrape the bottom of the bench for Acosta. His club form at Alajuelense took a significant dip toward the end of the season, frequently seeing him out of position and slow to recover. Duarte was by no means a world-class defender, but he was still miles ahead of the alternatives.

Finally, care to give a prediction?

I’ve picked this entire tournament with my head, not my heart. As much as I’ve enjoyed this magical run, it must eventually come to an end. After 120 grueling minutes, emotionally draining minutes, Costa Rica won’t have the legs to contend with the Netherlands for the full 90. They’ll have the heart, but I don’t see that being enough.

Netherlands 2-1 Costa Rica

It should be a more comfortable 2-1 victory than the one against Mexico, though.

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