Costa Rican fans didn't celebrate penalties for long

Reuters

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A Costa Rica fan reacts during a public screening of their 2014 World Cup quarter-final soccer match against the Netherlands, at Democracia Square in San Jose July 5, 2014. A Costa Rica fan reacts during a public screening of their 2014 World Cup quarter-final soccer match against the Netherlands, at Democracia Square in San Jose July 5, 2014.
There was something jarring about Costa Rica fans celebrating their team taking the Netherlands into penalties in their World Cup quarter-final on Saturday after a goalless 120 minutes.
The shootout, while it may be dramatic viewing, should be a last-resort to separate the teams rather than achievement to be celebrated.
Their joy was to prove short-lived as Dutch coach Louis van Gaal and substitute keeper Tim Krul seized the moment to send their team home after a shootout defeat.
Van Gaal’s decision to bring on Krul just before the end of extra-time to replace first choice keeper Jasper Cillessen was novel but it proved inspired.
Krul saved twice in the shoot-out to secure a 4-3 victory and a place in the semi-finals against Argentina.
There was a degree of logic behind the Costa Rican supporters’ delight at the end of 120 minutes, after all their team had beaten Greece on penalties in the previous round converting all five of their spot-kicks in fine style.
But whether they were psyched out by the substitution, put off by Krul’s unsporting antics before some of the kicks or just simply had two kicks saved, the Costa Ricans can have no complaints.
While many may have sympathized with the underdogs, as they sought to become the first Central American team to reach the last four in a World Cup, they opted for caution rather than the challenge of taking on the Dutch.
The statistics, in this case, tell the story of the game – the Netherlands had 15 attempts on target - Costa Rica had three. The Dutch had 11 corners - Costa Rica had one. The Europeans also had 64 percent possession.
What was disappointing is that Costa Rica are capable of much more.
Jorge Luis Pinto's team had won over the neutrals by their enterprising football in the group stage – beating Italy and Uruguay and drawing with England as they topped Group D.
In those opening two games in particular Costa Rica played with freedom with Christian Bolanos running the midfield, Junior Diaz powering down the left and Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell interchanging intelligently in attack.
Their performance against Greece could be generously dismissed as the necessity of playing against a notoriously dogged team who rarely allow their opponents to enjoy freedom of expression.
Against the Dutch, Pinto had a chance to test his team’s creativity, as well as determination, against a top European team who haven’t truly shined since their incredible 5-1 win over Spain in their opener.
But sadly Pinto opted for safety first – packing the midfield, limiting the forages from his wide players and too often leaving Campbell alone and unsupported in attack.
It was a counter-attacking approach without many counter-attacks.
"We're proud. We're not a world power. We work with what we have. We're going home unbeaten at the World Cup,” said Pinto after the loss.
Certainly his team deserve credit for what is arguably the best World Cup performance of a team from CONCACAF and a country of 4.5 million will be justifiably delighted to have reached the last eight in the World Cup.
But it was nonetheless disappointing that come crunch time they chose such a cautious approach and there was the feeling in extra-time that his side may have calculated that penalties was their best chance to win.
The Dutch head to Sao Paulo to face Argentina in what promises to be another closely fought contest and they do so as a team which has evolved into a tactically smart unit with an attack no defense can feel comfortable against.
Their midfield is workmanlike but with Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie in attack they have two players that can provide the unpredictable moments of brilliance that can unlock even games.

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