Oh my Gaal'd.
Louis van Gaal's tactical gamble paid off in the end, as backup goalkeeper Tim Krul's two saves in the penalty shootout against Costa Rica were enough to book the Netherlands a place in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup.
Many were surprised when the Netherlands' starting goalkeeper, Jasper Cillessen, was subbed off in the 120th minute for Krul. According to Infostrada Sports, it was the first time in World Cup history that a manager substituted on a goalkeeper solely for the penalty shootout.
This was the first time at the World Cup that a goalkeeper comes on as a sub solely for the penalty shootout.— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) July 5, 2014
Maybe Van Gaal had decided that he wanted a more experienced keeper in such a critical moment. More likely, though, he reasoned that since Krul is also two inches taller, he would have an easier time reaching the more difficult shots.
As former NFL punter Chris Kluwe noted, sometimes it pays off to be really tall:
The goalkeeper specialist with the win. IT'S GOOD TO BE A TALL PERSON IN GOAL AMIRITE?!?!— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) July 5, 2014
The Newcastle shot-stopper certainly wasn't a shootout specialist, making only two saves in his last 20 Premier League penalties:
Penalty specialist? In the last 4 PL seasons, Tim Krul has saved 2 of 20 penalties. pic.twitter.com/dVHrsduXuG— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 5, 2014
The Dutch manager has tinkered with his team all tournament, and swapping goalkeepers the minute before a shootout was the ultimate Van Gaal move. Had the Netherlands lost, he would've been the scapegoat. Now, he looks like a genius.
When Celso Borges scored with Costa Rica's first penalty, ESPN's Dale Johnson summed up what would've been the counter-argument to Krul's substitution:
Cillessen would have saved that.— Dale Johnson (@dalejohnsonESPN) July 5, 2014
Then Krul received a major lifeline in the form of a terrible penalty from Bryan Ruiz. The Fulham midfielder has been fantastic all tournament, but he'll likely be ruing his miss.
As journalist Andy Glockner tweeted out, sometimes all you can do is dive to one side and pray that the penalty-taker makes it easy for you:
Krul's plan seems to be to wait until the shot is taken and then hope it's not that good. Worked with Ruiz.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) July 5, 2014
Throughout the shootout, Krul tried his best to get inside the heads of the Costa Rican players with some good old fashioned trash talk before every spot kick.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl was surprised that the referee allowed it, while CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon believed Krul's gamesmanship only improved the spectacle:
Can't believe referee is allowing Krul's unsportsmanlike behavior here.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) July 5, 2014
A trash-talking sub goalie on PKs. This is compelling.— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) July 5, 2014
Giancarlo Gonzalez and Christian Bolanos both made their penalties to keep Costa Rica alive, but with Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt following suit, all the pressure was on Michael Umana, who coincidentally made the winning penalty against Greece in the round of 16. If he missed, Los Ticos would be eliminated.
Umana didn't have the magic this time around, with Krul making the decisive save to give the Netherlands a 4-3 win in the shootout.
Cillessen, who didn't look too happy to come off, was one of the first to celebrate the victory and shared an embrace with Krul at the end of the match, per Goal's Peter McVitie:
Cillessen went crazy with the substitution, but he was the first one celebrating the save and the two embrace at the end.— Peter McVitie (@PeterMcVitie) July 5, 2014
The Netherlands get Argentina in the semifinal. These two are no strangers to one another, most famously facing off in the 1978 World Cup final, which Argentina won on home soil.
Both teams are among the major powers of world football, so the fixture shouldn't be lacking in drama, even if Van Gaal and Alejandro Sabella's tactics put a premium on scoring chances.