Holland had won all their games in Brazil so far, coming from behind in three of them. That’s rather impressive isn’t it? However the Dutch’s success has been tainted by the antics of, probably, their most outstanding player. Arjen Robben has replaced Luis Suarez as the villain of the competition; in short, he’s just as divey but less hungry for human flesh. It’s a shame that a player of Robben’s quality has to resort to cheating as his team are more than capable of going all the way.
Van Gaal has been descisive and fearless in his tactics and, as has been said by everyone (so I better had too), is not afraid to make changes. His side lined up in a 3-4-3 (sort of)…
In-form winger Memphis Debay started wide on the left alongside Robin Van Persie and slippy-toes himself. Blind was deployed as a left-sided wing-back instead of the anticipated replacement for Nigel De Jong, that place taken by Martins Indi.
Costa Rica had a game-plan; stifle the Dutch defence, forcing Cillessen to kick long and deny possession in the orange half of the field. It was effective and Holland were held, but the threat from counterattacks with the pace of Robben and Depay was a constant.
Holland were patient, impossibly patient and controlled the game throughout Depay and Robben probing at the flanks. It took 20 minutes for Holland to test Navas; Depay squaring the ball to Van Persie, the Costa Rican keeper, Navas, matching the follow-up from Sneijder.
Holland kept control but sometimes their patience dissolved into frustration and sloppy passes but Cillessen had little to do in the first half an hour. Navas was called into action a couple more times; Depay getting in behind and a superb free kick from Sneijder.
There was no way through as the first half came to a close; Costa Rica allowing little past their back four, Holland forced back again and again into their own half.
This went on throughout the second 45; the Holland pressure increasing and still not allowed through. To be honest, it was a terse and frustrating game; Holland’s pace was below-par and Costa Rica unwavering in their defence but giving very little going forward.
81 minutes saw another unbelievable free kick from Sneijder hitting the post. Van Persie forced a save from Navas and then missed the ball completely seven minutes later when Sneijder’s pin-point cross flew across the six yard box.
When a side cannot take its chances like this, it is virtually written in the stars that the opponent will sneak one but they kept on and when Yeltsin Tejeda cleared Van Persie’s shot off the line in injury time and still Costa Rica did not respond, a penalty shootout looked certain.
Extra time saw a couple of chances, Cillessen called into real action for the first time and making a great save at the feet of Ureña. He was then substituted in the face of a penalty shoot out for Tim Krul.
This was one of those decisions that will now be touted as genius by Van Gaal. The reaction of Cillessen implied this had been expected and big Tim cut an imposing figure as he paced up and down and got in the faces of the Costa Ricans, telling them he knew exactly which way they’d go. Some could argue this was slightly underhand of our no.1. Some could say it was clever mind games. This was the furthest Costa Rica have ever progressed in this competition and would be understandably nervous. That’s not to say the Dutch would conform to their lazy stereotype and be laid back about a penalty shootout in the world cup quarter finals!
Krul, however, had done his homework and went the right direction for every Costa Rican penalty, snarling and slamming his chest, even when the ball met the net.
Twice it didn’t. Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umaña’s spot kicks were saved and Navas was not rewarded in any way for his unstoppable performance. It was almost as if a plan had come together…
Such a way of winning shows another unexpected layer to this Holland side and I would not be surprised, now, if they go and win the thing. Van Gaal seems to be a few steps ahead in terms of management; his side will face Argentina next and will he have a plan for Messi? JA NATUURLIJK!
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