4 July 2014 15:25
The latest chapter in Costa Rica’s fairytale FIFA World Cup story could be written against the Netherlands in Saturday’s quarter-final.
Billed as the whipping boys of Group D prior to the Brazil showpiece, Costa Rica beat Uruguay and Italy to top the pool before producing a thrilling last-16 win over Greece on penalties.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas proved to be Costa Rica’s hero, with his outstretched left hand denying Theofanis Gekas before Michael Umana hit the winning spot-kick.
Jorge Luis Pinto’s side scored all five of their penalties and their composure under pressure suggests a last-eight clash against Netherlands will not faze them.
While much of the credit has gone to quick forward Joel Campbell and playmaker Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica’s defensive organisation has also been integral to their success.
They have conceded just twice, and that, coupled with the impressive Navas, has made them hard to break down.
And although Ruiz acknowledges the quality of this Saturday’s opposition, he feels Costa Rica have every chance of progressing to a semi-final against either Argentina or Belgium.
“Saturday’s game is like a final for us,” Ruiz is quoted as saying on FIFA’s official website.
“But we don’t want to stop there. Holland is a great team, but I have to be honest and say that we have a good chance of beating them.
“But we have to take care of a lot of details if we want to win.”
Costa Rica will be without suspended defender Oscar Duarte, while Roy Miller and Navas have slight injury niggles.
They face a Netherlands side who have won all four games of the tournament, scoring 12 goals in the process.
A stunning 5-1 win against World Cup holders Spain set the tone for Louis van Gaal’s side but Mexico were able to push them all the way in the last 16.
Trailing 1-0 with two minutes of normal time remaining, goals from Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar secured the Netherlands’ progression in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Like they were against Mexico, the Netherlands will be expected to dominate possession and control the match, something that may work against them and their counter-attacking style.
Nigel de Jong will miss out with a groin injury, which is likely to lead to a tactical re-shuffle, while much attention will focus on Arjen Robben’s performance.
Robben – who won the injury-time penalty scored by Huntelaar against Mexico – later admitted to diving during that match.
The flying winger has played every minute of his side’s campaign, scoring three goals, but is likely to be closely monitored by the officials on this occasion.
The nations have never met before and there is no question that the Netherlands enter the match as favourites.
But Costa Rica’s stunning run in the tournament means nothing can be taken for granted in Salvador.