It was a bold move, one that could have easily backfired but in the end proved inspirational. Holland manager Louis Van Gaal’s decision to replace goalkeeper Jesper Cillessen with Tim Krul a minute before their Quarter final penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica seemed strange at the time but proved to be decisive as Krul stepped up to save two of the Costa Rican penalties, sending Holland into the semi-finals. The Newcastle stopper has only made 6 appearances for his country before this so when he was seen warming up deep into extra time, many were left confused. But Van Gaal knew exactly what he was doing and threw Krul on to become the hero. He knew that this was a bold move that would throw his opposite numbers well placed plans into disarray and it worked. Jorge Luis Pinto had no time to react, he simply had to rip up his pre match analysis of Jesper Cillessen and move on. It rattled Costa Rica to the core and in the end was the key reason why Holland progressed and Costa Rica didn’t.
Holland to be fair deserved the victory overall having created more chances but were unable to break down a well organised Costa Rica side. Led by Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica have been the surprise outfit of the tournament and were looking to become the first Concacaf nation to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup since the US in 1930. From kick-off, their strategy was clear – contain the Dutch, limit their chances and if possible hit them on the break. If they could hold them until full time, the objective switched to time wasting to get them to the dreaded penalty shout out and a lottery chance of progression. They played admirably throughout the first half, much like they had done against Greece in the round before, and attacked more in the second half with the hopes of snatching a goal. But the Dutch are a different proposition that the misfiring Greeks and with Robben and Van Perise on the pitch, Costa Rica could ill afford to be slack at tracking back. Joel Campbell ran his heart out before being replaced with twenty minutes of normal time left by Marcos Ureña who assumed the same role for the remainder of the match.
One upfront with Bryan Ruiz sitting between striker and midfield, it was hardly attacking football at its best. But they stuck to their plan and pushed Holland into extra time and then into penalties, thanks in part to some astute defending and further heroics from goalkeeper, Keylor Navas who surely must be a candidate for player of the tournament. In this game however there could be only one hero and that honour lay with Krul. It was obvious from the moment Krul confidently stepped onto the pitch that this move was rehearsed and that nothing had been left to chance. Krul knew the players he would face in the shoot-out, their favoured direction and more importantly how to rattle them. He smack talked the Costa Rican players one by one as they came up to take their kicks, trying desperately to put them off their game and boy did it work. The first penalty Ceslo Borges just dipped under Krul’s outstretched left hand as it eased its way into the bottom right corner. But after that Krul was in control. He saved the next one from Bryan Ruiz and more importantly Costa Rica’s five kick from Michael Umaña which put Holland into the semi-finals to play Argentina.
Krul’s teammates did their bit with Holland ruthless with their penalties, accurately thundering everyone into the corner of the net, far away from Navas diving hand. From their first kick to the last, Holland were determined not to repeat history and become the first Dutch team to ever win a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup. But the biggest role of the day fell to Krul to save at least one of Costa Rica’s spot kicks. He did better than that and now goes down in Dutch folklore as the man who single handily put Holland into the semi-finals of World Cup 2014. Spare a thought for Jesper Cillessen who played well in the match before being tactically substituted but even that will not take away from Krul’s two moments of history and Van Gaal’s moment of genius.