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Brasilia – Dutch coach Louis van Gaal’s audacious move in substituting his goalkeeper for the penalty shoot-out in the World Cup quarter-final victory over Costa Rica has earned widespread praise.
The victory set up a mouthwatering last four meeting with Argentina, as the goalkeeper he sent on, Tim Krul, proved the hero of the hour.
Van Gaal’s unprecedented move at a World Cup, and at such a crucial juncture, was the more startling as Krul had saved just two of the last 20 penalties he had faced playing for Premier League side Newcastle United.
However, Krul didn’t let his country or the future Manchester United boss down and rounded off a formidable last four line-up which sees them play Argentina on Wednesday.
Hosts Brazil, still absorbing the shock of losing star player Neymar, play Germany, who will be appearing in a record fourth successive World Cup semi-final, on Tuesday.
The clash with Argentina renews a rivalry which saw the Argentinians beat the Netherlands in the 1978 final in Buenos Aires and the Dutch beat the South Americans in a memorable quarter-final in Marseille in 1998.
“We’d discussed it with Tim, how Costa Rica would shoot their penalties, their sequence. So he was prepared,” explained van Gaal, whose second spell in charge of the national side has proved far happier than his first when he was sacked after they failed to reach the 2002 finals.
“Fortunately it worked out, because if it hadn’t worked out, I would have taken the wrong decision.
“That’s usually how it works out in football.”
Krul said the switch, which was kept secret from number one keeper Jasper Cillessen, had been in the works all week as the Netherlands built up to the game in Salvador.
“It’s a dream come true for me. I watched the penalties. We’ve been preparing with all the goalkeepers and the goalkeeper coach,” said Krul.
Van Gaal’s gall was hailed by former footballers, including former England star Gary Lineker now the BBC’s chief football presenter.
“What a performance, and what a piece of management by Louis van Gaal,” said Lineker, who suffered the pain of a penalty shoot-out defeat in the 1990 World Cup semi-final against eventual champions West Germany.
“We said he would live or die by that decision, well he lives and he lives into the semi-finals.”
The Dutch press were in awe of the 62-year-old former Ajax and Barcelona coach’s brave gamble.
“In sport at the highest level success can be decided by the thinnest of margins. Sometimes it stems from luck, sometimes from a sixth sense,” commented De Telegraaf.
While Costa Rica put up a brave fight, Argentina and four-time world footballer of the year Lionel Messi present a very different challenge even if they have yet to reproduce the stunning form from the qualifying phase.
Becoming expert in the art of winning by the barest of margins, their 1-0 win over the Belgians on Saturday was their fifth successive win in five matches at the finals by a single goal.
Messi, who found Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois unbeatable once again as he went goalless against him for an eighth successive match, hailed the performance as their best yet and added the team were proud to have broken a run of 24 years without an appearance in the semi-finals.
“This is amazing,” he said. “We knew it was going to be difficult.
“Argentina have gone a long time without doing this, and it was us who crossed the frontier.”
While it was Gonzalo Higuain who got the winner, for coach Alejandro Sabella if it had not been for the genius of 27-year-old Messi they would be back at home by now.
“He’s the water in the desert. He finds solutions when we think there aren’t any.” – Sapa-AFP