Louis Van Gaal is a manager who likes to take chances, throw in a surprise from nowhere to upset the opposition without worrying about the consequences if it goes wrong. The Netherlands coach, seeing the quarterfinal against Costa Rica going into penalties, replaced his No.1 goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, the man who had played every single minute of Holland's World Cup until then, with Tim Krul right at the end of extra time, and what a masterstroke it proved to be.
It's not like Krul has a great record of saving penalties, having managed to repel only two out of 20 in the Premier League with Newcastle, but great managers just have that sixth sense, a sense they go with even in the most high-pressure situations. Krul stepped up, made two vital, crucial saves off a Costa Rican team which had scored all five penalties in their previous outing against Greece, to send his Netherlands team into dreamland and a "cannot wait for it" semifinal against Argentina.
It was a tough, frustrating, "why won't the ball go in" quarterfinal for the Dutch in Salvador, the venue of their 5-1 mauling of Spain, with Costa Rica and goalkeeper Keylor Navas stubbornly refusing to let the ball slide past the goalline, while the woodwork came to their rescue on a couple of occasions as well.
With the match ending 0-0 after 120 attritional minutes, the dreaded penalty shootout came, which Krul, and his magnificent gloves, conquered.
Celso Borges began the penalty shootout with a strike that just crept under Krul, before Robin Van Persie did the same, showing Keylor Navas could be beaten after all. Bryan Ruiz would have faced Krul a few times in the English Premier League before, but the Costa Rica skipper did not have the Dutchman's number as Krul made a smart save to his left to give Holland the advantage.
Arjen Robben was never going to miss his spotkick, and he didn't firing it into the roof of the net, before Giancarlo Gonzalez made it 2-2. Wesley Sneijder, another of the Netherlands old guard, did what Robben did, thumping the ball into the net by sending Navas the wrong way with Christian Bolanos levelling things up.
The fourth of Holland's experienced core – Dirk Kuyt made it 4-3, leaving Michael Umana to strike a do-or-die penalty, which Krul repelled to stunning effect to create history for Holland, who won their first World Cup game ever on penalties and the first after going into extra time.
The first half was one that required immense patience -- for Holland as they looked to find a way through, for Costa Rica as they set their stall on putting as many men behind the ball as possible, before waiting for the right moment to spring on the counter, and for the crowd, who just wanted to see the goals raining in like it has so often at this ground.
Netherlands, like they have attempted to do all tournament, could not sit back and invite pressure so that they can hit their opponents on the counter, with Costa Rica more than happy to give the Dutch as much as the ball as possible.
What transpired was passage after passage of play of the three Netherlands central defenders passing the ball to themselves, looking to find a hole in Costa Rica's resolve before pouring forward. The first half was attritional at best, typical David vs Goliath battle, with Goliath struggling to break through David's defences.
And when they did penetrate through Costa Rica's five-man wall, and plenty of the midfield as well, there was that outstanding goalkeeper Keylor Navas to prevent the ball from doing what it loves most – hitting the back of the net.
Holland skipper Robin Van Persie was the first to really test the goalkeeper, firing in a low shot from about ten yards, which Navas did pretty well to keep out, after some wonderful build-up play with Robben, Dirk Kuyt and Memphis Depay involved. The rebound from the save would fall to Wesley Sneijder just outside the box, but the midfielder's shot did not even remotely look like troubling Navas.
Depay then decided to get in on the "let's find a way past Navas game" with the winger firing in a low drive after taking a through ball from Van Persie, but the Costa Rica goalkeeper stuck a right foot out to ensure the ball would not creep in at the near post.
Costa Rica really only troubled the Netherlands defence from setplays, with Borges coming close on a couple of occasions, but the likes of Joel Campbell, who did provide a couple of typically sparkling runs and touches, and Bryan Ruiz were very much on the periphery.
Netherlands could have gone into halftime with a 1-0 lead had it not been for the heroics of Navas again, who sprung like a cat to palm away a wonderful dipping 25-yard freekick from Sneijder.
Status quo was maintained in the second half as well, with the Dutch pressing and probing, and then pressing and probing some more, desperate to find a hole in that resolute Costa Rican defence. Chances, though, were fewer in the second period, as Costa Rica, if anything, looked a little more enterprising going forward.
There were plenty of Christian Bolanos freekicks which gave the Netherlands defence a concern or two, while Campbell also had a penalty appeal turned down, after going down under the challenge of Bruno Martins Indi.
Netherlands, who had never previously won in extra time at the World Cup, cranked it up in the final ten minutes, desperate to finish the game in the 90, with Sneijder coming desperately close, firing in a thwacking freekick from the right-hand edge of the box which thundered the post with Navas looking like he was beaten.
Van Persie then forced another save from the Costa Rica custodian, slamming a right-footed effort from an angle, before the skipper made a complete hash of what would have been another dramatic winner for the Netherlands.
Sneijder, who seems to come to his own in the knockout stages of the World Cup, curled in a peach of a cross from the Netherlands left, begging for Van Persie to just plant his foot and guide the ball in, but the striker, caught between wanting to head the ball and just side foot it in, missed the ball completely. If that miss pointed towards it just not being Netherlands' day, it only increased in the third minute of stoppage time as the ball somehow, somehow managed to stay out of the net.
Daley Blind played in a perfect low cross from the left, which evaded quite a few bodies inside the box before falling to Van Persie at the far post. The Holland captain found the target with his shot, but Yeltsin Tejeda was there to clear the ball off the line and onto the crossbar and to eventual, nail-biting, safety.
Netherlands could have won it right at the beginning of extra time, with Navas making another good save to deny Ron Vlaar's header off a corner, while Costa Rica gave it a go as well towards the end, as Marcos Urena forced a nice save from Jasper Cillessen, who for almost 120 minutes was a ere spectator.
Sneijder nearly won it in the final moments of normal time, with only the post denying the midfielder, and in the final minute of extra time it was the turn of the crossbar as a brilliant shot from distance refused to just dip in time.
Into the penalty shootout it went, from which Holland came out smiling, thanks to their old heads and Krul, while Costa Rica, despite the painful exit, ensured they could leave this fantastic World Cup in Brazil with their heads held as high as possible, having given another one of the true giants of the game the scare of their lives.