Tim Krul climbed off the bench to save two penalty kicks and send the Netherlands through the semifinals with a victory over Costa Rica.
Krul replaced Jasper Cillessen at the end of extra-time with the match destined for a 0-0 draw. The Newcastle goalkeeper then stopped attempts from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umaña to arrange a date with Argentina in the last four on Wednesday.
“We thought it through," said Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal about his decision to bring Krul in the match vs. Costa Rica. "Every player has certain skills and qualities and they don’t always coincide. We felt Tim would be the most appropriate keeper to save penalties. You would have seen that Tim dived to the right corner twice. We’re a tiny bit proud this trick has helped us through.”
This victory marked the first time the Netherlands survived an extra-time match at the World Cup in five tries, but they advance largely on merit despite their failure to hit top gear. Wesley Sneijder hit the post twice and Yeltsin Tejeda deflected a Robin van Persie effort off the cross bar as the Dutch toiled to vanquish the determined Ticos.
Costa Rica — backed by its wonderful goalkeeper Keylor Navas and its utter defiance — somehow grinded through to stymie the Dutch and reach penalty kicks for the second consecutive match. The magic finally faded at that point as Krul vindicated his late arrival with a pair of stops to back his teammates’ precision from the spot and steer the Dutch away from another calamitous exit.
No such fate befell the Ticos as they exited, though. This last performance summed up a marvelous tournament and underscored how they managed to reach the last eight for the first time. They will return to their homeland as heroes as the Dutch start to prepare for the trek to Sao Paulo in midweek.
The hints of the gridlock and the drama to come emerged early in this affair. Most of first half focused on the tactical acumen of the managers rather than the exploits of the players on the field. Netherlands adopted a more assertive approach in van Gaal’s 3-4-3 to control the proceedings in possession, while Costa Rica maintained its 5-4-1 shape and its prudent course of action under Jorge Luis Pinto to negate the Dutch attempts to play behind the line.
The measures essentially led the two teams to cancel each other out in the early stages. Netherlands attempted to stretch the play horizontally to spread out the Ticos’ shape, but the Costa Ricans largely stayed connected, pushed out intelligently to catch the Dutch offside and restricted the space available. Their diligence encouraged them to move forward from time to time, but those forays occasionally provided the Dutch with the openings required to present questions.
Navas — as he did throughout this tournament — answered all of them. He played his angles correctly to haul a sweeping Dutch move by turning aside van Persie’s near post effort and then thwarted Memphis Depay moments later. Sneijder forced another diving save at the near post from a curling free kick as the Dutch attempted to figure out a way through before the interval.
The frustration built instead. Costa Rica enjoyed a bright spell at the start of the second half and generated a penalty shout as Joel Campbell went to ground, but Bruno Martins Indi’s challenge did not provoke an award from Ravshan Irmatov. It would have proven harsh on the balance, but it constituted the most likely way to break the deadlock with the Dutch toiling for ideas in possession.
Sneijder rang the near post with a curling free kick that likely had Navas beaten, while van Persie forced a sharp-angle save from the in-form goalkeeper moments later as the Dutch piled on the pressure. Van Persie then somehow fanned on his first-time attempt to turn home Sneijder’s inviting back-post ball two minutes as the Dutch somehow conspired to let the Ticos of the hook time and again.
Navas produced one last escape to ensure extra-time. He parried van Persie’s initial free kick from the right, but Daley Blind collected on the left and drove a low cross into the penalty area. Van Persie met it first time and watched Tejeda hack it off the bar and away from danger.
The one-way traffic continued as extra-time commenced with the Ticos looking haggard after their exertions against Greece. Vlaar forced another save from Navas with his one-hop header off the ground. It marked the high point of those exertions as the Dutch flailed around without any genuine sharpness aside from the lively Robben.
Costa Rica flickered to life once or twice as the Dutch eased off as the second half of extra-time progressed. Second-half substitute Marco Ureña changed pace wonderfully to carve out an opportunity, but Cillessen repelled the Ticos’ first shot on goal to stave off disaster.
Sneijder cut inside and hit the bar for a second time on the night in the waning stages to exacerbate the disbelief at the Dutch plight. Krul then replaced Cillessen in the final seconds as van Gaal steeled his side for the spot kicks poised to decide the last semifinalist.
“We had discussed it with Tim," van Gaal told reporters after the penalty shootout victory. "He knew about their penalties because he needed to be prepared. It worked out. If it hadn’t, it would have been my mistake.”
The unorthodox decision ultimately saved the Netherlands at the last. Krul proved the difference on the spot kicks as he saved Ruiz’s low attempt and then thwarted Umana when he needed score the final attempt to send the Dutch through.