Holland 0 Costa Rica 0: Three talking points
Holland 0 Costa Rica 0: Three talking points as Louis van Gaal's men reach the semis after shootout win
Holland scrape through but fail to seize the day
Looking back, since that famous 5-1 win against Spain which ended one era and, for a week or so, looked like it might have proved the start of another, it would not be stretching a point too much to say that Holland have underwhelmed. Costa Rica, their opponents in ,this game, had not reached this stage on the back of a whirlwind of goals. It would be difficult to argue that the switch to three at the back has not generally served the Dutch well in this tournament, but they were a little subdued (albeit in the heat) against Mexico, and too often in this game. Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij found themselves looking to step out from the back, but with little purpose, and to all too little effect. Meanwhile, when Holland found themselves breaking forward, particularly in the first half, they failed to commit enough men to their attacks, which were consequently swallowed up by los Ticos. There was some improvement in the second period – perhaps to no great surprise, as ten of Holland’s 12 goals prior to this game in this World Cup had come after the break – but when true urgency is confined, as it was here, to the last 15 minutes, it will not always be enough. In the end, Louis van Gaal will argue that his extraordinary decision to bring on Tim Krul for the penalty shoot-out was a calculated gamble which won his team the game. In truth, had he gambled earlier, Krul would not have been needed.
Costa Rica play to their strengths but fall at the last
When Greg Dyke, the chairman of the Football Association, reacted so memorably to the group-stage draw for this World Cup, it is fair to suggest that Costa Rica weren’t the cut=throat opponents he had in mind. And yet it is of course they who ended up making it the furthest from Group D, after England wandered home, Italy were caught napping, and Uruguay bit off more than they could chew. This match was another example of their fine organisation, led by Giancarlo Gonzalez, their de facto captain in the knockout stages, and supported by another fine performance from goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who looked in full control of proceedings at least until some flappy moments in the final few minutes of normal time. Granted, they rode their luck, including in second half injury time when somehow – somehow! – they managed to keep the ball out of the net as nigh on the entirety of Holland seemed to be lining up to finally plunge in the knife. Going forward, though, they offered too little – to the extent that the 90 minutes of time brought them the entirety of no shots on target. They placed successfully for penalties against Greece. This time, they were not so lucky.
It’s a game of one half
The group stages of this World Cup were hailed across the football fraternity as a festival of goals and glory. Latterly, though, the combination of the heat and the pressure of the knockout rounds has brought the tournament back to a series of games which have varied from enthralling to cagey to downright dull, but with the common characteristic that most of them have reached half-time with the score untroubled. In some of the matches, a goalless first 45 minutes has allowed teams to open up in the second period with their energy conserved, but the risk is that the pattern of the game has been set. This game could – maybe should – have been so much better; and for Holland, so much simpler. As it was, with the primary exception of the once again excellent Arjen Robben, the Oranje were unable to pull themselves out of their lethargy until too late. Penalties are not quite the ‘lottery’ that many commentators would have you believe, and for Costa Rica, even making it that far may have been beyond their expectations, but Holland will not want to find themselves that close to the brink against Argentina.