Salvador, Brazil: Dutch coach Louis van Gaal revealed he had not told Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen of his plan to switch him for Saturday’s penalty shootout victory over Costa Rica.
Van Gaal stunned onlookers at Salvador’s Fonte Nova Arena by bringing on Newcastle’s Tim Krul to replace Cillessen in the final seconds of extra-time with the scores deadlocked at 0-0.
The bold gambit paid off spectacularly as Krul, judged to be a better penalty stopper, saved two spot-kicks to help the Dutch into a semi-final meeting with Argentina.
Afterwards, Van Gaal disclosed that the strategy had been kept hidden from Cillessen right up to the moment the switch was made.
“We said nothing to Jasper,” Van Gaal said. “We didn’t want him to be faced with this information before the match because of course that would be disappointing for him.”
But Krul — who has saved only two out of 20 penalties during his career with Newcastle — was seen as the safer pair of hands.
“Every keeper has specific qualities and we felt that he had a better reach, and a better track record to stop penalties,” van Gaal said.
“We’d discussed it with Tim, how Costa Rica would shoot their penalties, their sequence. So he was prepared.
“Fortunately it worked out because if it hadn’t worked out I would have taken the wrong decision. That’s usually how it works out in football.”
Going into penalties, the Dutch were seeking to improve on their record of one victory in five previous shootouts in major tournaments.
The towering Krul twice dived low to his left to thwart efforts from Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana, while the Dutch fired home all four of their penalties.
In their previous match, Costa Rica scored all five penalties to beat Greece and earn a place in the last eight.
The Netherlands dominated Saturday’s game in Salvador, enjoying 64 per cent of possession and having 15 shots on target to Costa Rica’s three.
But even with a three-pronged attack comprising Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay, the Dutch could not break down Costa Rica, although they hit the woodwork three times and were facing an inspired keeper in Keylor Navas.
Van Gaal suggested he was having doubts about his tactics as the game wore on.
“I asked the players if we should carry on with the tactics when we had breaks, and they all said an emphatic ‘yes’ to me,” he said.
He also expressed frustration at what he considered to be time-wasting by Costa Rica, who appeared to be the happier of the two sides to take the game to penalties.
“My players carried themselves well with the time-wasting, which the referee did little to stop,” said Van Gaal.
“I must take my hat off to my squad. It is very frustrating for us as we sit on the sidelines. You know that if you miss so many chances the game can turn.”
That turning point nearly came in the 117th minute, when, in a rare break, Marco Urena found space to get a powerful shot on target, but Cillessen was up to the task and blocked it.
“Before that, not one chance,” said Van Gaal. “But it could have been a different story ... that is the football life of a coach.”
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s semi-final against Argentina in Sao Paulo, the Dutch coach said they were in for a tough time.
“Make no mistake, Argentina are a very strong team with very strong individuals, like [Lionel] Messi,” he told a news conference, referring to the South Americans’ feared forward.