Not a lot of people were expecting yesterday's quarter-final match between Netherlands and Costa Rica to end up this way.
The Dutch fielded their youngest starting line-up (26 years - 237 days) at a World Cup since 11 July 1998 (in a 2-1 loss against Croatia) and their sixth youngest ever, while Costa Rica were looking to continue their fairytale run that saw them surprisingly eked passed powerhouses Uruguay and Italy in the group stages, followed by a draw against England and a penalty shootout win against Greece in the Round of 16.
In the opening exchanges, the Dutch were contended with passing mostly within their own half, maintaining possession in a well-composed start to the match.
Costa Rica defended well as Netherlands upped their tempo and started foraging down the flanks via the lively Arjen Robben.
Keylor Navas on form
In the 21st minute, Kaylor Navas made a double save after former Liverpool man Dirk Kuyt delivered a clever cross to Wesley Sneijder, who then laid it off for Robin van Persie to strike. Sneijder, who was making his 16th World Cup appearance - a Dutch record - picked up the rebound and struck it once again on goal, but his scuffed effort was easily picked up by the Costa Rica custodian.
Three minutes later, Kuyt sent another cross into the penalty box, which van Persie failed to get a touch on it. The Manchester United forward's glaring miss wouldn't have counted anyway as the assistant referee had already called for offside.
Memphis Depay broke down the left hand side in the 28th minute, driving into the box after a surging break on the left flank, but Navas saved well again from the youngster's near post attempt.
His opposite number, Jasper Cillessen collected a long-range free-kick delivery a few minutes later, and distributed the ball upwards almost immediately, but Robben was called for a pull on his marker. The Dutch bench reacted furiously, as replays suggested that his marker lost his balance and that there was minimal contact. Given the Dutchman’s form, it should have been 1-0.
Junior Diaz was booked moments later after a foul on Robben, and Navas did brilliantly to deny Sneijder’s free kick, extending himself towards his top right hand corner to palm the ball behind for a corner.
Robben managed to pivot and sent a smart through ball into the path of van Persie, but Navas was quick off his line to smother the pass before the 30 year-old veteran could get a touch on it.
Despite maintaining an enormous 69% of possession, the Dutch failed to capitilise on their endless attacking plays and the half ended goalless.
Costa Rica started the match on a higher tempo, with the Dutch looking shaky in the opening minutes of the second period.
Michael Umana earned the match’s first yellow card after catching Robben with a late challenge. The Bayern Munich winger squared the ball into the middle to Sneijder, who could only manage to curl the ball high and wide off the goal courtesy of some brilliant man marking by the Costa Rican defenders.
The Netherlands earned a corner in the 55th minute, but Diaz rose well to block Stefan De Vrij’s header on goal. Sneijder then sent a laser-guided cross to Robben across the flank, which the latter did exceptionally well to keep it in play. The 30 year-old then whipped in a delightful cross to Dirk Kuyt at the near post, but the Fernebahce winger was under too much pressure to place his shot on target.
Costa Rica started to take control of the match, but failed to take advantage of their chances. A surging charge by Arsenal's Joel Campbell down the left flank was supported by no one in the 59th minute, and Christian Bolanos’s free kick three minutes went high and wide. Bruno Martins Indi received a yellow shortly after following a pull. Bolanos floated in a cross from the resulting free kick, but Giancarlo Gonzalez could only send his header spiraling behind for a goal-kick.
A visibly unhappy Campbell was replaced by Marco Urena in the 65th minute as Los Ticos continued with their rich spell of possession. Netherlands was soon caught on the counter by Costa Rica, with Cristian Gamboa sending in an inviting cross from the empty right flank, which unfortunately wasn’t met by anyone.
Robben then sprinted down the right hand side, before characteristically cutting infield, and then rather uncharacteristically laid the ball off for van Persie, who looked as though he was drawing the defenders away to create space for Robben to take a shot.
Gamboa appeared to have landed awkwardly, hurting his ankle in the process as the Rosenborg man and Daley Blind both went up for an aerial ball. Gamboa was later called for a foul as he not only mistimed his bicycle kick clearance, but was also millimeters from knocking Blind out cold.
Sneijder whipped in yet another top-class delivery from the resulting free kick, but Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar got too much contact on the ball and ended up diverting it over Navas’s goal. A couple of substitutions ensued, with Netherlands’s Depay, who looked exhausted, coming off for Jermaine Lens, and World Cup debutant David Myrie replacing the injured Gamboa for the Costa Ricans.
Robben went on another run at the edge of the penalty box, before The Flying Dutchman was tripped by Gonzalez, who subsequently received a yellow card as Los Ticos started to become increasingly physical. Sneijder’s curling effort beat the wall, the keeper, but failed to beat the post as the ball rattles of the woodwork to the relief of the North Americans.
Van Persie got two chances in two minutes to put the Oranje ahead, but failed to convert in a miserable afternoon for the Dutch international. Navas failed to handle Gonzalez’s headed clearance, before van Persie cannoned a strike straight at the goalkeeper. van Persie was picked out by a lofted through ball moments later, his first touch setting him up beautifully, but his second betrayed him as the recovering Costa Rican defenders managed to swamp him and cleared the ball.
Shortly after, Van Persie was presented with perhaps the best chance of the afternoon to put the Dutch in front, after Sneijder did well to cut the ball onto his right foot before curling in a delightful ball into the path of his teammate, but he fluffed his lines completely and failed to make contact from from eight yards out.
Diaz tripped Arjen Robben at the edge of the penalty box in the 91st minute, who narrowly escaped a second trip to the referee’s notebook. The isolated and misfiring van Persie struck his free kick from 20 years straight at Navas, who should have caught it instead of punching it clear. Blind sent a brilliant ground cross into the penalty box after Sneijder collected a clearance, but it evaded every single onrushing player in the goal area.
The ball eventually trickled its way to van Persie, whose mis-hit effort was diverted onto the crossbar by Yeltsin Tejeda to end a frantic goalmouth scramble, and a pulsating 90 minutes thus far in the quarter final game.
After the break, Vlaar, who has been solid at the back in the match, headed a well delivered corner by Robben, but Navas was equal to the effort and did brilliantly to thwart away the effort on goal for another Dutch corner kick. Navas rushed out to grab the subsequent delivery, but didn’t get anywhere near the ball. Johnny Acosta tried to clear the line via a bicycle kick, but he mistimed it and the ball went off his shin for yet another corner kick.
Costa Rica suffered a scare as Navas appeared to have injured himself after clashing with Kuyt, but turned out to be okay after treatment from the physios.
A bit of comic relief ensued in the 96th minute as the fourth official raised his board without keying in anything, realising his mistake only a few seconds later. Tejeda, who cleared van Persie’s late effort in regulation time, makes way for midfielder José Miguel Cubero, as Costa Rica’s coach Jorge Luis Pinto looks to push the play higher up the pitch.
Vlaar and Urena clashed unintentionally in the penalty box shortly after, but the Uzbekistan referee, Ravshan Irmatov, who was taking charge of his ninth World Cup match - a new record - wasn’t interested in awarding a penalty despite appeals from the Costa Ricans players.
The first half of extra time closed with both teams launching various attacking forages as time started wining down. Robben flew down the flank once again before predictably cutting into his left foot and shoots, but Diaz blocked his shot with his shoulder. The Flying Dutchman insisted on taking the resulting free kick instead of Sneijder, who would have been a better option considering his close shaves in regulation time. Unsurprisingly, Robben sent his effort straight into the wall.
Bryan Ruiz, easily Costa Rica’s most reliable outlet, tried to feed Urena with a through ball, but it turned out to be too heavy. Ruiz then attempted a lofted pass to the Kuban Krasnodar forward again a few moments later, but there was too much pace on it once again.
Kuyt whipped in a cross from the right flank, but Navas did well to come out early and punched the ball clear before the referee blew for half-time in extra-time.
Klass-Jan Huntelaar, who should have came on a long time ago, finally came on after the interval, replacing Bruno Martins Indi, who was on a yellow card and growing progressively frustrated as the match wore on.
Robben, who have been running at the Costa Rica defence the whole afternoon, clashed into Acosta as he was preparing to dribble into the penalty box. The impressive defender, who was brought in in place of Oscar Duarte this afternoon, was booked, before a corner was flicked high and wide at the near post by Huntelaar.
Urena, who has been largely ineffective thus far, was found by a misplaced Dutch pass, but the substitute’s attempted ball back into the feet of Ruiz was terrible. Huntelaar then caught Navas with an extended arm as Kuyt floated a ball into the back post. Navas received a rather lengthy treatment, while Huntelaar was booked for his unnecessary antics.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines, Newcastle United’s goalkeeper Tim Krul started an intensive warm-up session.
Bolanos sidestepped his way into the Netherlands penalty area, before his shot was blocked eventually.
Sneijder chipped a delightful ball over the substitute Jermaine Lens, who was denied by a speedy Navas, and the offside flag.
This was the 12th offside in the game for the Dutch.
De Vrij then did well to deny Urena, before Vlaar blocked Bolanos eventual shot after the Copenhagen midfielder twisted and turned onto his left foot.
In the 117th minute, Urena unexpectedly took on De Vrij and left the Feyenoord defender behind with an equally unexpected turn of pace. Cillessen did really well to react down low to save the substitute’s powerful shot, before Robben’s long-range effort at the other end was well blocked by the seemingly unbreakable Costa Rica defence.
After a evidently unfruitful attacking possession, Lens laid off the ball to Sneijder, before the Galatasary man cut onto his right foot and arced a phenomenal effort off the crossbar, with Navas well and truly beaten. The rebound was collected by Robben, but his tenacious strike hit the back of the disappointing van Persie instead. The tireless Celso Borges collected the rebound and launched a long pass to Urena, who then lost his balance as he tried to get round Vlaar, brilliantly keeping up and ultimately outrunning the Kuban Krasnodar forward.
TIm Krul replaces Jasper Cillessen
Tim Krul came on to replace the excellent Jasper Cillessen, who, according to Louis van Gaal after the game, was not told of this arranged switch in order to avoid affecting his preparation.
Extra time eventually ended and the game went into penalties.
Both teams had excellent chances throughout the 120 minutes, with 26 shots registered during the match. The Dutch had a staggering 64% of the possession, but it wasn’t enough to break the sturdy Costa Rica defence, and the offside trap as well, which they fell victims to a stunning 13 times during the high-octane game. Costa Rica found the Dutch defence to be largely disciplined as well, as their efforts were handled calmly and successfully by Vlaar and co.
It is now Krul, who had only saved two out of 20 penalty attempts in the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League season, against one of the contenders for keeper-of-the-tournament Kaylor Navas, who failed to keep out the first three penalties against the Greek, but saved the fourth one astutely to send the North Americans to their first World Cup quarter final.
This was the first time at the World Cup that a goalkeeper came on as a sub solely for a penalty shootout.
Borges stepped up to take the first penalty and defied any idea of pressure, slotting it beyond the despairing grasp of Krul and into the back of the net. van Perise made amends for his poor performance as he beats Navas to make it 1-1.
Ruiz stepped up to the plate, with Krul playing mind games with the Costa Rica captain. The tactic paid off, as the Dutch keepers sprawled down to his left and turned the penalty round the post. Robben, who was easily one of the Dutch’s most dynamic outlets with Sneijder, sent Navas the wrong way to put Netherlands into the lead.
Gonzalez, Sneijder, Bolanos, and Kuyt all converted their respective penalties with calm, power and finesse to bring the score to 4-3.
Umana, who needed to score to keep his team alive and pile on pressure for the Dutch, stepped up and sent his effort to his right. Krul dived well and clawed the relatively weak effort away to safety, as the Netherlands progressed to their second consecutive World Cup semi-finals after what should be one of the most dramatic matches in recent World Cup memory.
The Dutch will now face Argentina in the semi-finals, who will be without Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria after their unimpressive 1-0 victory over Belgium in the other quarter-final match, while the overachieving Costa Ricans can proudly hang their heads up high after fighting gallantly and defying expectations throughout this edition of the World Cup.
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