SALVADOR, BRAZIL – Substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul emerged an unlikely hero with two saves in the shootout on Saturday as the Netherlands overcame Costa Rica 4-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw to set up a meeting with Argentina in the semifinals of the World Cup.
Dutch coach Louis van Gaal sent Krul on to replace Jasper Cillessen at the end of extra time and it proved to be a stroke of tactical genius as the Newcastle United keeper stopped penalties from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana to end the Central Americans’ fairytale run at the tournament.
The Netherlands dominated for long periods at Arena Fonte Nova, but hit the woodwork three times and were denied by another outstanding performance by Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas before the match ended in a stalemate and went to penalties.
Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt all scored from the spot for the Dutch.
With Bayern Munich winger Robben making his presence felt, the Dutch were fluid going forward and carved out the first chance of the game in the 22nd minute, only to be denied by a double save from Navas.
Man of the match in Los Ticos’ 5-3 penalty shootout win over Greece in the last round and also in this game, Navas saved well from van Persie before collecting a follow-up from Sneijder, and pulled off three more key stops to keep the Dutch at bay.
The Levante custodian, who kept the joint-second most clean sheets in La Liga last season, blocked Memphis Depay’s effort with his leg after Costa Rica captain Ruiz had given away possession in midfield, and then turned away a free kick from Sneijder before racing off his line to thwart van Persie shortly before the break.
Despite the talents of Joel Campbell and Ruiz in attack, the Costa Ricans’ forays into Dutch territory all too often broke down in the final third as they tried to create chances on the break.
A free kick after Bruno Martins Indi was booked for a foul on Ruiz provided Costa Rica with an opportunity in the 65th minute, but Giancarlo Gonzalez headed Christian Bolanos’ delivery off target.
With eight minutes left, the Dutch won a free kick of their own thanks to Robben and very nearly caught Navas out as Sneijder cracked a shot against the post.
There was more drama to come in injury time as van Persie connected at the far post with a shot that hit Yeltsin Tejeda on the line and looped up onto the bar and away to safety.
Navas once again pulled off a magnificent stop in the third minute of extra time to push wide a header from Ron Vlaar, and Sneijder again rattled the bar in the 119th minute.
Costa Rican fans celebrated like they had won the World Cup when Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov blew the final whistle before that joy turned to despair in the shootout.
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said he was proud of his players despite the defeat but rejected the suggestion that the Dutch substitution in the shootout had scared his players.
“Maybe he (Krul) is a specialist and I respect that. I have never seen that before and if you can stop penalties then it is okay but we were not intimidated,” said Pinto, whose team stunned Italy, Uruguay and England en route to their best showing at the World Cup.
“It’s true that he stopped two penalties but that is the nature of football and the nature of penalties. It depends on luck.”
“I have told my players that I was very proud of them and that the whole country is proud of them and we are proud because they have given everything on the field. It’s not only football it’s their attitude, the way they have behaved in all the matches and that deserves acknowledgment.”
Added Navas, “This World Cup has been a great experience and we’re leaving with our heads held high. Everyone did a good job. We left everything on the pitch. Nobody likes to lose and it’s hard. We didn’t lose any game — a penalty shootout isn’t a defeat.”