Ticos leave with their heads held high -- and without a defeat

By Ridge Mahoney

Costa Rica's Cinderella story in the World Cup came to a close Saturday in an excruciating penalty-kick shootout loss, 4-3, to the Netherlands after 120 goalless minutes.

Substitute keeper Tim Krul, who entered the game in the final seconds of extra time, saved two attempts by Costa Rica, which had converted all five of its PKs while beating Greece in the round of 16. Krul’s heroics helped the Dutch overcome another remarkable game by Costa Rican counterpart Keylor Navas, who fought off everything launched at him in regulation and extra time.

Here is why both teams can be satisfied with what they showed in Salvador.

Cool Krul. Dutch coach Louis van Gaal took a calculated risk in removing starting keeper Jesper Cillessen and bringing in Krul for the penalty shootout. The Newcastle United goalie -- who hadn’t saved any of the five penalties he faced in Premier League play last season -- stretched out his 6-foot-3 frame far enough to repel shots hit to his left by Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana.

Costa Rica went first in the shootout and by saving its second kick from Ruiz, Krul opened the door for the Dutch to take a 2-1 lead when Arjen Robben converted their second attempt. The teams held serve heading into the fifth round, which meant if Umana failed the Dutch would win, 4-3. The former Chivas USA and Galaxy defender hit his shot hard and fairly close to the post but Krul’s left glove deflected it away.

“We told Tim Krul that he would be the best goalkeeper for the penalties as he’s bigger; we didn't tell Cillessen, as we didn't want to ruin his preparation and concentration,” said Van Gaal. “There is no question about who will start next game, it will be Cillessen. But we felt Krul was the better choice here -- and he proved that. He guessed the correct way for every penalty.”

Van Gaal’s gambles. The decision to use Krul wasn’t the only crucial change made by Van Gaal. In the round-of-16 comeback win over Mexico, he’d replaced Robin van Persie with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who in the final minutes set up the equalizer and scored the winner himself in a 2-1 victory immediately dubbed “The Miracle of Fortaleza,” at least in the Netherlands.

The Dutch bombarded the Costa Rican goal for most of the game and hit the woodwork three times. Midfielder Wesley Sneijder struck the frame with a sharply swerving free kick and hit the crossbar with another attempt in extra time. But van Persie wasn’t finding much space as the lone forward, so at the start of the second period of extra time, Van Gaal took out defender Bruno Martins Indi and sent Huntelaar up top with Van Persie to give another option up front for Robben, whose incessant running and slick passes wearing tearing apart the Costa Rican defense.

The move reduced the Netherlands to three in the back plus attacker Dirk Kuyt on the right side, and almost proved costly, as Costa Rica’s slumbering attack awoke to twice threaten the Dutch goal. Cillessen’s only difficult moment of the game came with three minutes left when substitute Marco Urena blasted a shot from close range that he went down to block.

The Dutch penalties were converted ruthlessly by van Persie, Robben, Sneijder and Kuyt. (Huntelaar had converted the stoppage-time penalty by which the Dutch had squeezed past Mexico.) The Netherlands hadn’t been in a penalty shootout since the 2004 European Championships, during which they knocked out Sweden, 5-4, after a 0-0 tie in the quarterfinals.

Robben runs and runs. If their teams reach the final, the Golden Boot award for most valuable player could be a photo finish between Robben and Argentine icon Lionel Messi.

Messi is among the tournament’s top scorer with four goals, but Robben has been the most important player for the Netherlands through its five matches. Though Costa Rica pulled nine men back in a 5-4-1 formation when defending, it couldn’t stop Robben, whose scything runs and dribbles carved it open time and time again. He also moved centrally for awhile and slipped a pair of through balls that just failed to connect with van Persie.

According to FIFA stats, he penetrated the attacking third 32 times with passes or dribbles. He was one of eight Dutch players to run more than 12 kilometers during the match as they took 20 shots to six for Costa Rica.

Navas is the man, Ticos are the team. Officially credited with seven saves, Navas played a blinder, as most of those shots on goal tested him severely. Costa Rica was within a shootout of becoming the first Concacaf team to reach the semifinals since the U.S. achieved that feat at the 1930 World Cup that was played with fewer teams and under a different format.

By repeatedly staving off the Dutch he was selected Man of the Match to complete a sharp World Cup showing during which Costa Rica conceded only two goals while beating Uruguay and Italy in regulation, and tying England, Greece and the Netherlands. It is only the third Concacaf nation to defeat both South American and European competition in the same World Cup: Mexico beat Croatia and Ecuador in 2002 and the USA defeated Belgium and Paraguay in 1930.

Costa Rica reached the quarterfinals without striker Alvaro Saborio, its leading scorer in qualifying, and defender Bryan Oviedo, its starting left back. Both were injured and left off the 23-man squad.

“This World Cup has been a great experience and we're leaving with our heads held high,” said Navas. “Everyone did a good job. We left everything on the field. Nobody likes to lose and it's hard. We didn't lose any game -- a penalty shootout isn't a defeat.”

11 comments about "Ticos leave with their heads held high -- and without a defeat".
  1. Karl Schreiber, July 5, 2014 at 10:37 p.m.

    HELP me out, please. In my book, the ref made two MAJOR mistakes during the penalty kicks by allowing two Dutch goals even though the Dutch keeper stepped ahead of the goal line BEFORE the ball was kicked. -- Law 14 states, about the goalkeeper positioning himself: (The defending GK) must remain on his goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked. -- The ball is in play when it is kicked and moves forward. -- The goalkeeper infringes the Laws of the Game: if the ball does not enter the goal, the kick is retaken. --Slow motion shows clearly, on second Costa Rica PK: Dutch keeper stepped ahead of goal line with both feet before the ball was kicked. PK should have been retaken! – In my recollection, the Dutch keeper infringed Law 14 again on the second Costa Rica PK he “saved”, but the ref allowed the goal. – Somebody should do something about this, not only at the World Cup but also in MLS, EPL, Bundesliga etc games!

  2. Santiago 1314, July 6, 2014 at 12:03 a.m.

    Kicks from the Spot are a Joke.. They should do 35 yard NASL Shoot Out... Watching Cruyff Chip Goalie from 32 yards, Now that is Voetbal,... Not this Cheating thing that is the PK.. Costa Rica, Congrats, But how Embarrassing for Holland/Van Persie to get "Beat" by a Team using a HIGH SCHOOL Offside Trap... Like I said before... WEAKEST WORLD CUP EVER!!! ... USA could have gone all the way, with better Coaching... Shame..

  3. Mark Hardt, July 6, 2014 at 9:06 a.m.

    congratulations to Costa Rico. They had less talent then the US but better coaching. Klinsman is a master recruiter and spotter of talent but needs help on the technical end. He should hire a better offensive and defensive coordinator. He needs another loew. If Altidore remained healthy or there was a backup such as Terrence Boyd we would still be playing.

  4. I w Nowozeniuk, July 6, 2014 at 11:54 a.m.

    As I said before to the deaf ears out there, overtime with three substitutions and FIFA will avoid 80% of the PK settlement.

    Karl S. The refs do not enforce the rules of the game. They bend them, sometimes to the extremes. It's not that hard for the ref and AR to watch the keeper and listen to the sound of the ball being struck. For me, the unpunished diving, encroachment, and inability to count out 10-yards on free kicks made most of the refs look pretty much delinquent in enforcing the laws of the game.

  5. Nancy Carr-swaim, July 6, 2014 at 11:57 a.m.

    You are right about the goalie leaving his spot early more than once. Apparently the ref forgot that rule. I thought the Dutch goalie should have been forced to retake a few. Might have had a different result! Had mixed feeling about the Dutch team after the way they "beat" Mexico with an undeserved penalty kick at the end.

  6. soccer talk, July 6, 2014 at 2:54 p.m.

    Penalty Kicks like player "diving" are rules
    That refs do not call unless they are blatantly
    Infringed. Kind of like the 6 second goalie rule that
    almost never is called. Fouls in the box as well
    are more scrutinized in the box bc PKs can change the
    game. It's a like in basketball at the buzzer there
    Must be a major hack before a ref blows the
    Whistle. By the book it's wrong, but that is
    how it's been.
    The PK in the box was unfortunate to decide
    The game against Mexico which deserved to
    Win that match. But Robbin even though he
    Dived a lot as many do did get overlooked
    For a clear foul in the box in the first half where
    replay shows the spikes to ankle and commentators all agreed as such. The Mexican
    defender was not smart in giving the ref the
    Opportunity to make the call especially there
    In the waining minutes. Soccer is a cruel and
    unforgivable game.

  7. Bruce Moorhead, July 7, 2014 at 5:38 a.m.

    I w N - I have been saying for years that there should be at least 2 subs added for extra time. Glad someone agrees. This rule change needs to be implemented. What happens now is that the 2nd half of a knockout game tends to have fewer goals scored if it is tied at the half or 60 minute mark due to tactical subs being held with the possibility of extra time. More subs would mean more goals and excitement for all.

  8. TK TK, July 7, 2014 at 10:51 a.m.

    Ticos were cheated out of 2 pks during regulation. Somebody up in Fifa really wants the Netherlands to advance. What a disgrace.

  9. Santiago 1314, July 7, 2014 at 12:01 p.m.

    @Bruce and I w** ... "IF" we are going to pull a Hillary and "Suspended All Disbelief" then let's throw Common Sense to the Wind and Play the "IF" game on Overtime...... A few Extra Substitutes in Overtime, will only lead to more Time Wasting and Help the Weaker Team to Bunker Bus better... Also, you will see more "KRUL" Keepers...Except they will be 7ft-7 Yao Mings, who NEVER Play, Except to be Substituted for the PKs...Think Designated Hitter......**INSTEAD ** Allow FREE BIOMETRIC UNlimited Substitutions, ON THE FLY... Like Hockey or Indoor Soccer...Kind of like Tag Team...Just touch the iTablet to get OUT/OFF and the Replacement Player Touches the iTablet too get IN...ON THE FLY!!!... NO TIME WASTING NEEDED TO HOLD UP SOME STUPID NUMBERS... Wouldn't we All like to a Thierry Henry on the Field for France for 10 minutes... He was Freakin Incredible vs The Dynamo on Friday... What would a World Cup look like if the "Older" STAR Players could be brought on for Spurts of 10-15-20 Minutes??? Sure would be a lot more Entertaining/Exciting than watching this Crap!!!... Imagine**Ronaldinho, Kaka, Defoe, Beckham, Donovan,... List could go On and On and On... Might need to increase the Roster to 25...Big Whoopie!!! ... FIFAs Got the Money....Give the Fans what they want to see!!!... STAR PLAYERS, Not 9 Automatons, Running 12k a game and NOT being SMART enough to Beat a HIGH SCHOOL Offside Trap... Just saying!?!?!

  10. I w Nowozeniuk, July 7, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.

    Amigo Santiago, get a grip, the refs are supposed to add the time wasted with subs; and the overtime subs would probably come in at the beginning of OT; u forget that the subs are probably just as good technically as the starters... yet, you huff and puff about ideas that would add some bounce to the game; actually I find your tirade a bit amusing, especially about T. Henry, who in reality is not lighting the MLS on fire and u applaud him like the icon he was.

  11. Santiago 1314, July 9, 2014 at 6:16 a.m.

    @I w** Maybe we can agree that with Today's Modern Technology, There is No Reason for any Delay in Time for Substitutions...Players are already Issued a Biometric Passport(Those ID's around the Neck)(I know,I Still have Mine)...Coach comes over to Tell 4th Official,Just Scan/Swipe Players Card to come OFF, Scan/Swipe for Players Coming ON...Up it Pops on The Scoreboard...Player Sub on the Run...

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