The Netherlands will have hoped to have reached this stage of the competition having been beaten finalists four years ago, but for Costa Rica a quarter-final place is surely beyond even their wildest dreams. Mohamed Moallim and Eduardo Mendez guide us through the two teams ahead of the last-eight clash in Salvador.
Mohamed Moallim on the Netherlands: Louis van Gaal will be without Nigel de Jong, his silent force in midfield, for remainder of the World Cup. It's now a question of who takes over his 'controller' duties. The main candidate is Daley Blind, who filled in after De Jong sustained the groin injury that'll keep him side-lined for around 2-4 weeks early in the game against Mexico, another option is Jordy Clasie. Van Gaal, now a recurring theme, will decide between two systems: 5-3-2 or 4-3-3. The latter enabled the Dutch to overcome a dogged Mexican side after the former only gave them nothing but trouble.
Eduardo Mendez on Costa Rica: It took four matches, but injuries and suspensions have finally caught up to Costa Rica. A second yellow will force center-back Oscar Duarte to miss the quarter-finals. Roy Miller, a likely substitute, is suffering from a muscle injury in his left leg and has been ruled out of the World Cup. Even goalkeeper Keylor Navas has been kept from fully participating in training (shoulder). The options are limited for head coach Jorge Luis Pinto. Scraping the bottom of his bench, expect Johnny Acosta to be the team’s only change. He will fill the role of right centre-back in Pinto’s 5-4-1: Navas - Diaz, Umaña, Gonzalez, Acosta, Gamboa; Bolaños, Tejeda, Borges, Ruiz; Campbell.
Mohamed Moallim: Van Gaal stuck to his guns in the last game: Oranje for large parts against Mexico were in reactive mode, playing their now familiar counter-attacking football (the heat in Fortaleza was another factor in retaining this style – to conserve energy), his 'plan A' to navigate in this tournament. But, as many were quick to point out, it was stuttering. Van Gaal, who demands control of the tempo, was seeing his side overrun. However, like any great manager in a difficult moment, the Dutch manager made the necessary changes: switching to 4-3-3 which saw the pendulum descend slowly toward Oranje. A win is a win.
Eduardo Mendez: The first 45 minutes against Greece were, admittedly, unbearable to watch. Contrary to popular belief though, Costa Rica made the necessary adjustments at half-time. The opportunity was there to capture an insurmountable 2-0 lead just 10 minutes after the break, but an inept moment from the official led to a missed handball in the box. Duarte’s sending off changed the complexion of the match. But even with a man advantage, Greece struggled to break down Costa Rica’s compact defence. It took penalties, but the fact remains: Costa Rica is still a confident, unbeaten bunch riding the best form in the nation’s history.
WHAT THE MANAGER SAYS
Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal: "This group of players is very modest. We have outstanding spirit, outstanding atmosphere and that led to victory. Costa Rica are very difficult opponents, otherwise they wouldn’t have ended up in a quarter-final."
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto: “We know we’re playing against some of the best players in the world like [Wesley] Sneijder, [Arjen] Robben and [Robin] van Persie. The Netherlands knows how to control the game. They’re a strong team, one with a swift and powerful attack. But we will face them without fear, with confidence and with the belief that we will succeed."
Mohamed Moallim: It won't come as a surprise if Van Gaal decides to deploy 4-3-3 from the onset against a Costa Rican side that have enthralled this summer's competition. If he does then all eyes on the 'number six' (or controller), the key position in the time-honoured Dutch system – stationed in front of the defence – both Blind and Clasie play that role for their respective clubs (Ajax and Feyenoord) – but in contrasting ways. Blind, more strategic (often dropping in between the centre-backs), whereas Clasie – playing style reminiscent of Xavi – more dictatorial.
Eduardo Mendez: Pulling off the upset of the tournament requires leadership. Pinto has provided it from the sideline, but on the pitch, that responsibility belongs to captain Bryan Ruiz. In addition to his two goals, the 28-year-old is averaging one successful take-on and 1.8 key passes per match. His ability to provide a link and support to Joel Campbell will be the driving force behind Costa Rica’s attack. Los Ticos will have zero chance of being effective if their No. 9 is left alone on an island.
Mohamed Moallim: In three of the four games the Dutch have played they have come from behind to win: Spain and Mexico scoring first whereas Australia themselves raced to a 2-1 lead after conceding the opening goal. This resiliency has only strengthened Oranje's belief that they can – after being written off pre-tournament – create something special in Brazil. From this comes an interesting statistic: 10 of their 12 goals scored in the second half, they've at least scored twice in each game played, and they are priced at 6.30 to win the second half 2-0.
Eduardo Mendez: The Netherlands to finish with the most offsides at 1.62. Uruguay, Italy and Greece ultimately succumbed to Costa Rica’s aggressive high line. The three were drawn offside a combined 27 times. Pinto will deploy more of the same tactics in an attempt to frustrate the opposition.
Mohamed Moallim: Netherlands 3-1 Costa Rica at 12.50.
Eduardo Mendez: I’ve written through this entire tournament with my head, not my heart. I’m not about to start now. Netherlands 2-1 Costa Rica at 8.00.
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