Netherlands vs. Costa Rica: Ticos' Incredible Tactical Resistance Finally Breaks

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Netherlands vs. Costa Rica: Ticos' Incredible Tactical Resistance Finally Breaks
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

The Netherlands booked their place in the FIFA World Cup semi-finals thanks to a penalty-shootout victory over Costa Rica on Saturday evening in Salvador.

The game finished 0-0 after 120 minutes, paving the way for Tim Krul to save the day by saving two spot-kicks.

 

Formations and XIs

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The Netherlands used their third distinct formation of the tournament: the 3-4-3. Memphis Depay earned a start on the left wing, Dirk Kuyt played right-wing-back and Wesley Sneijder paired with Georginio Wijnaldum in the centre.

Costa Rica played their usual 4-5-1 system, with Johnny Acosta coming into the defensive line to replace Oscar Duarte as expected.

 

The 3-4-3

Louis van Gaal has been chopping and changing his shape an awful lot during the tournament, and his new 3-4-3 formation continued the trend of keeping his side the same, yet completely different at the same time.

The 4-5-1 Costa Rica are wedded to create a matchup problem for the 4-3-3 or the 3-5-2, as Van Gaal prefers to line up man vs. man in the centre of midfield and create space elsewhere.

With only Yeltsin Tejeda and Celso Borges to worry about, LVG committed two men to marking them and merely hoped they'd be easier to track/less energetic and vertical than Charles Aranguiz and Marcelo Diaz of Chile.

The decision to play wingers helped his wing-backs win the flanks—playing a 3-5-2 entrusts the sidelines to just a player each side—and affirmed Van Gaal's obvious belief that to beat Costa Rica, you have to get around them.

 

Problems

Costa Rica found the first half incredibly tough going, with Keylor Navas called into action four times and forced to make three outstanding saves.

Junior Diaz and Cristian Gamboa, despite their work rate, lost the wide battle two vs. one, and the Ticos struggled mightily to move themselves up the pitch.

FourFourTwo.com/StatsZone

By half-time, they had managed just 31 percent of possession, per WhoScored.com, and while that's not truly an issue considering their style of play, the lack of action Joel Campbell saw was a worry.

Depay was bright early on, Arjen Robben was fouled eight times in total, per FourFourTwo.com, and Costa Rica were being drawn into chopping down runners high up the pitch.

 

Pressing 3 vs. 3

After the break, Costa Rica returned with a more aggressive strategy to close off the Dutch in possession.

They pushed Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos high up when Jasper Cillessen had the ball, shifting temporarily from 5-4-1 to 5-2-3 and man-marking each of the Oranje's centre-backs.

It gave Cillessen no chance to pass out to any of his three defenders, and he wasn't confident enough to try to drop the ball in to Daley Blind, Wesley Sneijder or anyone else.

Costa Rica pushed their defensive line high up, squished the space and allowed Tejeda and Borges to man-mark their counterparts the other way.

While positive and promising, it was an odd strategy: Long balls in behind for Robben to chase is the Netherlands' favourite route to goal, and none of the three centre-backs—Ron Vlaar, Bruno Martins Indi or Stefan de Vrij—are particularly penetrative in possession.

In fact, all three leave a lot to be desired on the ball; when Sneijder and Wijnaldum were marked out in midfield, none of them took the opportunity to breach the space and carry the ball forward.

Closing them off, while representing a change in tact, got the Ticos nowhere.

 

Marcos Urena

Marcos Urena replaced Joel Campbell after 66 minutes and made a difference in the game, and Jorge Luis Pinto should be praised for having the guts to take off a key figure in the side.

FourFourTwo.com/StatsZone
Urena was far more combative and rangy than Campbell.

Campbell ran 120 difficult minutes against Greece in the round of 16, leading the line on his own and nearly pulling both his hamstrings as he tried to provide relief to his side following Duarte's red card.

He looked off the pace physically in Salvador, but he didn't click with his team either and kept making the same run off the ball—in behind the defence—every time.

Urena came on and began dropping short, linking play well and interacting with his midfielders. After a few flicks, backheels and slanted passes, the Dutch suddenly became very aware that this was a very different proposition to defend.

 

Chaos

The last 10 minutes of the game were utter chaos, as was the entirety of extra time.

The Dutch eventually found a way past the magnificent Keylor Navas in the shootout, notching all four of their penalties in style and watching Krul—the reserve goalkeeper substituted in specifically to participate in the shootout—excel.

The Netherlands ended up in a 4-4-2 with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar partnering Robin van Persie, Jeremain Lens on the left wing and Kuyt at right-back. Sneijder had hit the bar and the post, RVP had mis-kicked a sitter and Cillessen had made a vital stop at the other end.

Van Gaal will get all the credit, overcoming an impressive Ticos side, making a gutsy substitution in Krul and, most importantly, hauling a "weak" side into the World Cup semi-finals.

Costa Rica go home with their heads held high, Navas in demand, Bryan Ruiz reborn and Campbell a rising star. This was a remarkable campaign for them.

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