Salvador, Reuters—Netherlands goalkeeper Tim Krul made a dramatic entrance off the bench to save two penalties in a shootout win over Costa Rica on Saturday following a 0–0 draw after extra time, sending the Dutch into a World Cup semi-final with Argentina.
Heavy favorites for the clash, the Dutch dominated but were frustrated by the woodwork and a string of fine stops from Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas before Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal sent on Krul late in extra time for the shootout.
It was an inspired move as Krul plunged to his left to keep out two Costa Rican kicks while Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt held their nerve to score from the spot and give the Dutch a 4–3 shootout win.
The Netherlands, who have reached the final three times but never won the World Cup, will play Argentina in São Paulo on Wednesday. Hosts Brazil play Germany in the other semi-final.
“You sit on the edge and think it might go to extra time and penalties and you have to take the team from the quarter-finals to the semis,” Krul said. “It’s a dream, it’s unbelievable.”
It was a tough end to a superb campaign for World Cup surprise package Costa Rica, who had already seen off the challenge of three former world champions and were bidding to become the first team from the CONCACAF region to reach the last four since the United States in 1930.
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto noted his team left the tournament unbeaten in normal play and praised goalkeeper Navas, who thwarted the Dutch time and time again.
“We have a brilliant, spectacular goalkeeper. What we did on the pitch, what we showed to the world, I think that is crucial. We are not a big power but we demonstrated things, we are leaving very proud,” he said.
Returning to the scene of their campaign opening 5–1 mauling of defending champions Spain, the Dutch were a world away from that rampant display in a cagey first 90 minutes of probing play, although they almost broke the deadlock in a late flurry.
After being held by a Costa Rican defense that had conceded just twice in Brazil, Sneijder almost got the breakthrough eight minutes from time only for his free kick to hit the post.
With normal time almost up, Dutch captain Van Persie then found himself in space in the box after some scrambled defending but his driven shot was cleared off the line and onto the bar by Costa Rica midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda.
The Dutch arrived in Salvador as the World Cup’s top scorers having rattled in 12 goals in four games, and as extra time began they looked keen to avoid penalties having won just one of their five previous shootouts in major tournaments.
Big center back Ron Vlaar had a header tipped wide by Navas and Robben, one of the World Cup’s standout performers, was a constant threat on the break.
However, in a frenetic finish it was the Dutch who were almost undone on the counter when Jasper Cillessen saved well from Michael Umaña before Sneijder thundered a curling effort against Costa Rica’s crossbar.
With spot-kicks almost upon them, Van Gaal took the unusual step of replacing Cillessen with Krul to help his side against a team who had already tasted glory in an expertly taken penalty shootout with Greece in their last 16 match.
Krul had reportedly been working specifically on saving penalties for seven weeks with Dutch coaches and he looked confident from the moment he arrived on the pitch.
With both sides scoring their first kicks, Costa Rica captain Ruiz saw his low effort tipped wide by the towering stopper, who then produced another save in the same spot to thwart Umaña with Costa Rica’s fifth spot-kick.
“We found among the keepers that Tim Krul was the best to save penalties because he has a longer reach,” Van Gaal said.
“We studied their penalties and you can see that Krul picked the right corners. I’m really proud that the work paid off.”
In the earlier quarter-final, Argentina beat Belgium 1–0 on Saturday to play the Netherlands in the World Cup semi-finals as the host nation was still reeling over the loss of star forward Neymar.
Argentina reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 24 years after a brilliant eighth-minute goal by striker Gonzalo Higuaín at the Brasília national stadium.
Higuaín instinctively fired the ball into the Belgian net after it was deflected towards him off Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen in what proved to be the only goal of a match dominated by defense.
“We were able to reach a semi-final which we haven’t achieved for many years. Now we need to play well and try and reach the final,” Higuaín said.
“We gave our all, it’s a World Cup, it doesn’t happen every day. Now we have to think about the next game. There are two matches left to achieve this beautiful dream.”
Higuaín grazed the crossbar with another powerful strike in the second half while Lionel Messi, who teased and tormented the Belgians all match, blasted the ball straight at Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois when he broke free in stoppage time.
The South Americans were content to spend most of the game defending as a disappointing Belgium struggled to make any inroads, although Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini both went close to equalizing with headers.
“We were not impressed by the Argentines, absolutely not, it’s just an ordinary team,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots growled.
“Messi is the star player, he never loses the ball but he made a couple of tackles and fouls; the referee is never against him, every time there was a little foul it was almost always in favor of Argentina.”
Meanwhile, bookmakers have installed Germany as the new favorites to win the title after Brazil’s hopes took a battering with the news that Neymar had broken a bone in his back in his team’s 2–1 win over Colombia.
The carnival atmosphere that swept over Brazil on Friday night was replaced by a more dour mood on Saturday as the samba nation tried to come to terms with Neymar’s untimely exit from the tournament.