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06 Jul 2014 06:38
Tim Krul of the Netherlands saves the last penalty shot against Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals at the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador on Saturday. (Marcos Brindicci, Reuters)
The Netherlands survived a nerve-wracking penalty shootout against Costa Rica on Saturday, with substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul the unlikely hero, to set
up a World Cup semifinal against Argentina after the South Americans beat Belgium
While the Netherlands and Argentina savoured their progress to the last
four, hosts Brazil were still coming to terms with the news that star forward Neymar
will miss the rest of the tournament due to a broken vertebra in his back.
The news prompted bookmakers to install Brazil’s semifinal opponents Germany
as the new favourites to win the title.
In Salvador, Krul was brought on specifically for the shootout at the Fonte
Nova Arena after the teams finished extra time locked at 0-0.
Diving full length to his left, Krul saved from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana
as the Netherlands triumphed 4-3 to end the fairytale run of tiny Costa Rica,
who had defied the odds just to make the quarterfinals for the first time.
“What we did on the pitch, what we showed to the world, I think that is
crucial,” said Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto.
“We are not a big power but we demonstrated things, we are leaving very
The Dutch, who have never won the World Cup but reached three finals,
including the last one in Johannesburg four years ago, play Argentina in São
Paulo on Wednesday in one of two classic match-ups between South American and
Germany will tackle Brazil in Belo Horizonte a day earlier.
Argentina reached the semifinals for the first time in 24 years thanks to a
brilliant eighth-minute goal by striker Gonzalo Higuain at the Brasilia
Higuain’s instinctive turn and shot flew into the Belgian net after the ball
reached him via a deflection off defender Jan Vertonghen in what proved to be
the only goal of a match dominated by watertight defence.
“We gave our all, it’s a World Cup, it doesn’t happen every day,”
Higuain said. “Now we have to think about the next game.
There are two
matches left to achieve this beautiful dream.”
Higuain grazed the crossbar with another powerful strike in the second half
while Lionel Messi, who teased and tormented the Belgians with his wizardry,
blasted the ball straight at Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois when he broke
free in stoppage time.
‘Just an ordinary team’
Argentina, World Cup champions in 1978 and 1986, spent much of the game
defending as a frustrated Belgium struggled to cut out clear chances though Kevin
Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini both went close with headers.
“We were not impressed by the Argentines, absolutely not, it’s just an
ordinary team,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots growled.
“Messi is the star player, he never loses the ball but he made a couple
of tackles and fouls, the referee is never against him, every time there was a
little foul it was almost always in favour of Argentina.”
The heavily-fancied Netherlands dominated their game with Costa Rica but
could not find a way to get the ball in the net, squandering a series of
chances and being denied by some acrobatic saves from Keylor Navas.
The Dutch hit the woodwork twice in normal time and once more in extra time
before the game was sent to a shootout, raising Costa Rican hopes of a victory.
The Central Americans had won their last 16 match with Greece on penalties,
scoring five from five, while the Netherlands had lost four of the five
shootouts they had contested in major competitions.
Dutch coach Louis van Gaal made the surprising decision to send on the
towering Krul for regular keeper Jasper Cillessen and the unorthodox move
proved a masterstroke.
“The sub was terrific,” gushed Dutch striker Robin van Persie.
“If you see something like that, it deserves credit.
While the Dutch celebrated, the carnival atmosphere that swept over Brazil
on Friday following their 2-1 win over Colombia was replaced by a more sombre
mood as the samba nation tried to come to terms with Neymar’s exit from a
tournament that has exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Brazilian television stations interrupted their normal programming to
broadcast live shots of Neymar leaving the team’s training base on a helicopter
while Brazil President Dilma Rousseff sent the injured player a letter.
“It broke my heart and the heart of every Brazilian watching the pain
on your face on the Castelao field yesterday,” Rousseff wrote.
“But we also saw the immense strength of a great warrior, who will
never let himself be held back even when wounded.”
The initial shock over Neymar’s injury quickly turned to fury as the
collision with Colombian defender Juan Zuniga was further scrutinised.
Neymar collapsed on the pitch and was carried off the field in tears after
Zuniga had come rushing in from behind and kneed the charismatic Brazilian
striker in the back.
Zuniga, who was not cautioned over the incident, sent a personal note to Neymar
explaining that it was an accident but not everyone agreed with his version of
“It was a very violent, unlawful tackle,” said former Brazil
“We all have to fight for football to have more fair play. We have to
demand that sanctions be given to violent players. I am in favour of very
severe sanctions to those who don’t want to play football and just want to do
such violent tackles.
“It was an evil tackle,” he added.
Fifa spokesperson Delia Fischer said world soccer’s governing body would
evaluate the match after receiving the referee’s report. - Reuters
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