Netherlands faced Costa Rica in the quarter-finals of World Cup 2014, and it looked to be quite the interesting tie. The Dutch were still riding the shockwaves of their flabbergasting demolition-job of Spain. Costa Rica were certainly underdogs, although they had recorded excellent results against Italy, Uruguay and England, as well as eliminating Greece via a penalty shoot out in the Last 16. What unfurled on July 5th, 2014, was a footballing masterclass from the Netherlands. Crucially, the only thing missing from this Dutch performance were goals. Also, fun fact: referee Ravshan Irmatov officiated his ninth World Cup game, the most ever officiated by a World Cup referee.
The Netherlands created the first real chance of the game. Memphis Depay broke up-field at great speed, pushing the ball into the centre to Arjen Robben. Robben slid the ball right to Dirk Kuyt, who took a touch and laid the ball back to Depay. Depay faked a shot and then cut a pass behind him to Robin van Persie. Van Persie was through and leathered his shot at goal, only to see his effort saved by Keylor Navas.
The Netherlands squandered another chance to take the lead soon after. Bryan Ruiz was pressured by Stefan de Vrij, with the Costa Rican forward hitting his pass into the danger zone. The ball was picked up by Robin van Persie who ran at the defence before spraying his pass wide to Memphis Depay who hit his shot towards the bottom corner, but his shot was blocked by the legs of Navas.
Similarly to Costa Rica’s opening game against Uruguay, their manager, Jorge Luis Pinto, had instructed them to go in hard on the Netherland’s danger men. Arjen Robben found himself targeted frequently, much to the anger and annoyance of Luis van Gaal. Throughout the match Robben was physically assaulted frequently and van Gaal was often seen berating the fourth official, Ivory Coast’s Noumandiez Doue.
With ten minutes to go in the first half, Arjen Robben was aiming to chest the ball down and drive into the box. Junior Diaz pulled back Robben, earning himself a yellow card. Diaz claimed that the Dutch winger dived, a fair accusation considering the way the Dutch beat Mexico in the last round. Wesley Sneijder hit the free kick on target, forcing Keylor Navas into a Superman-style save.
Into the second half and Costa Rica felt that they should have been awarded a penalty. Junior Diaz burst down the left flank, hitting his cross to the feet of Joel Campbell. Bruno Martins Indi nudged Campbell in the back, seeing the forward hit the deck. The Uzbek referee shook his head and waved play on.
Just after the hour mark and Martins Indi brought down Bryan Ruiz. The Dutch defender was given a yellow card and earned Costa Rica a free kick. Christian Bolanos curled in the free kick towards the back post. Giancarlo Gonzalez and Ron Vlaar contested the cross. Gonzalez won the header, but directed it skywards due to Vlaar’s pressure.
Giancarlo Gonzalez pulled Arjen Robben back inches outside the box. It was unsettling to see how Robben threw himself to the ground, but it was a foul. The yellow card was a tad harsh, however. Once again, it was Wesley Sneijder who stood over the free kick, and this time, he beat Navas. He put the ball past the ‘keeper, but saw his strike hit the goalpost and was cleared away from danger.
The Netherlands were pushing harder and harder, and yet still they could not grab a goal. With time running out, Sneijder broke into the box, then cut back onto his right foot, whipping a wicked ball towards the back post. The cross found Robin van Persie at the back post, but Christian Bolanos did just enough to put off the Manchester United striker.
Both Louis van Gaal and Arjen Robben were livid at the referee when he failed to show Junior Diaz a second yellow card. Robben took control of the ball on the touchline, driving at pace towards the box. The only thing that stood between Robben and the box was Diaz, who was not standing for long. He launched himself to ground, tripping up Robben in the process. The referee blew for a foul, but no more. Robben had a growing reputation for diving, but this was as clear a yellow card as you would see all day.
Towards the end of the match and Costa Rica cleared a shot off the line. Daley Blind put a cross into the box which seemed to miss everybody. It drifted through to van Persie at the back post who hammered a shot towards goal. Yeltsin Tejeda had dropped back to the goal line and put his body on the line to block the shot.
The game went to extra time and Ron Vlaar was involved at both ends. He forced Navas into a terrific save from a corner in the attacking end of the field. Shortly after and he body slammed Marco Urena to the ground. It was a clear penalty but the referee shook his head. Vlaar took offence to what he perceived as a dive, screaming in Urena’s face.
The Netherlands kept creating chances and with minutes to go in the game, they hit the bar. Jeremain Lens squared the ball to Sneijder, who was standing at the edge of the 18 yard box. He took a touch and curled his effort over the crowded penalty box. The ball struck the crossbar and dropped wide of the crowded box.
With the game moments away from a penalty shoot out, Louis van Gaal made the bold call of substituting off his goalkeeper, Jasper Cillessen, and bringing on Newcastle ‘keeper Tim Krul. Cillessen looked disgruntled at being subbed off, but his disappointment didn’t last long as he saw his team progress through to the semi-finals.
The gamble to sub on Krul wasn’t immediately rewarded, with Celso Borges rolling his penalty under the Dutch goalkeeper. Krul was visibly angry to have missed the ball, kicking the goalpost in frustration. Robin van Persie nailed his penalty into the side netting, giving Keylor Navas no chance of stopping the ball. Bryan Ruiz saw some great sportsmanship from van Persie, with both players shaking hands on their walk. Sportsmanship turned to gamesmanship as Tim Krul visibly tried to put off the Fulham forward. Krul’s shenanigans worked, as he guessed the right way, saving Ruiz’s penalty with ease. Arjen Robben put Holland in the driving seat as he hit his penalty into the left corner. Krul once again tried to psych out his opponent, causing the referee to give the ‘keeper a verbal warning. This was less fruitful, however, as Giancarlo Gonzalez blasted his penalty over Tim Krul. Wesley Sneijder calmly dispatched his penalty into the bottom left corner, and Christian Bolanos scored his. Dirk Kuyt hammered his penalty into the bottom left corner, putting all the pressure on Michael Umana. Tim Krul dived to his left, pushing the centre backs penalty wide and winning his team the match. It was an inspired substitute by van Gaal.
Costa Rica had beaten their wildest expectations by winning one group game, few would have expected them to top the “Group of Death”, and even fewer would have imagined that they would have won a knockout game. They spent the majority of the 120 minutes against the Dutch on the ropes, owing Keylor Navas everything to ensure that he kept the score down. Despite their defensive nature in the knockout rounds, their underdog status charmed the world, and while it was pleasing to see the better side progress, it was with a twinge of regret to see the Central Americans crash out on penalties. The Dutch would be pleased to see their team put on such a dominant display, especially since Sneijder, Robben and Robin played such electric football. The fans would be less happy that it took penalties to separate the sides. For the neutral, it was an entertaining clash which provided one of the most inspired World Cup substitutions of all time.
Tomorrow’s game: July 6th. Uruguay v Netherlands. 2010.