Netherlands, Argentina advance to World Cup semis

SALVADOR, Brazil — Tim Krul ended Costa Rica’s magical World Cup run on Saturday, producing two penalty saves at the Arena Fonte Nova to lead the Netherlands to the semifinals with a 4-3 win after the two nations played to a 0-0 draw through extra time.

Jasper Cillessen started the match in goal for the Netherlands but made way for Krul just before the conclusion of extra time as head coach Louis van Gaal looked to gain an edge in the looming shootout.

The Newcastle United goalkeeper repaid that faith by stopping penalty attempts from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana to secure a meeting with Argentina on Wednesday, Holland’s second consecutive semifinal appearance in the World Cup.

“In terms of team spirit and togetherness, this is the best group I’ve worked with. I thought we had more quality than Costa Rica and deserved to win. I don’t know how much ball possession we had, how many times we hit the woodwork and how many chances we had — in the end it’s all about scoring,” Van Gaal said. “We have practiced pens, I believe when you’re used to a certain way of shooting you’ll be more comfortable taking that shot. We told Tim Krul that he would be the best goalkeeper for the penalties as he’s bigger; we didn’t tell Cillessen, as we didn’t want to ruin his preparation and concentration. There is no question about who will start next game, it will be Cillessen. But we felt Krul was the better choice here — and he proved that. He guessed the correct way for every penalty.”

The Dutch controlled much of the match but only created their first real scoring opportunity in the 21st minute when Robin van Persie latched on to Memphis Depay’s through ball and fired a left-footed shot on target, but Keylor Navas was able to parry the attempt to the top of the penalty area. The clearance only went as far as Wesley Sneijder, who lashed the rebound back toward goal, but Navas was equal to the task once again.

Navas denied Sneijder again in the 39th minute when the Galatasaray midfielder uncorked a brilliant free kick from distance that looked destined for the upper corner, but the Levante ‘keeper pushed the shot aside to send the two sides into halftime scoreless.

The Netherlands continued to dictate play but struggled to break down the organized Costa Rica defense until the closing stages.

Sneijder came within inches of breaking the deadlock in the 82nd minute when he curled a right-footed free kick off the post from the corner of the penalty area.

Shortly after, Arjen Robben swung a free kick into the penalty area from the opposite flank but Van Persie was unable to turn the delivery into the back of the net.

Van Persie spurned a glorious chance in the 90th minute when Sneijder delivered a tantalizing cross to the back post, but the Manchester United striker failed to connect as the ball trickled out for a goal kick.

Costa Rica managed to escape further danger in stoppage time when Van Persie’s free kick from a wide position was punched away by Navas but only as far as Daley Blind. The Ajax defender fired the ball back into the mix where Dirk Kuyt turned it on frame, but Yeltsin Tejeda managed to clear the ball off the goal line by slicing it onto the crossbar, allowing Los Ticos to clear their lines.

The match became very open as extra time progressed, and Costa Rica gained a great deal of momentum going forward.

Cillessen was called into action for the first time on the day when Marcos Urena wriggled free of the Dutch defense in the 117th minute and uncorked a shot that the Ajax ‘keeper was able to parry to safety.

Sneijder hit the woodwork for a second time when he took a layoff from Jeremain Lens in the 119th minute and curled a superb effort toward goal with his favorite right foot, and a relieved Navas could only help but watch the strike come back into play off the crossbar.

On the stroke of the final whistle in extra time, Van Gaal used his final substitution to swap Cillessen for Krul, and it proved to be a managerial masterstroke.

After Celso Borges and Van Persie traded blows in the opening set of penalties, Krul dove to his left to slap Ruiz’s attempt to the outside of the post. Robben then put the Dutch in front by firing home the next shot from the spot.

The two nations converted on their next two attempts, leaving Umana in a must- score situation. But Krul completed his short but heroic display by diving to his left and pushing Umana’s shot aside, putting the Netherlands in the semifinals for the third time in its last four World Cup appearances.

Costa Rica crashes out of the competition having reached its first-ever World Cup quarterfinal.

Argentina 1, Belgium 0

A goal in the eighth minute from Gonzalo Higuain was enough to propel Argentina to a 1-0 quarterfinal win over Belgium at the Estadio Nacional de Brasilia on Saturday.

Higuain handed Argentina the early lead with a well-struck shot after a deflected pass from Angel Di Maria, while Argentina’s defense made the goal hold up with an organized display that limited Belgium’s chances and gave goalkeeper Sergio Romero a fairly easy afternoon between the posts.

“Argentina didn’t wow us. They looked quite an ordinary side to me, but they used their experience well,” Belgium head coach Marc Wilmots said. “They started as favorites, scored an early goal and then knew how to handle being in front, by stopping us getting any momentum going.”

The win moves Argentina into the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990, where the team will face the Netherlands on Wednesday.

“Ever since the first game I’ve been saying that I wasn’t worried, that my first goal would come, and fortunately it came at a crucial time,” Higuain said. “It’s been a long time since Argentina reached the semifinals and I’m happy it’s this group of players that managed it, because they deserve it. Now we want to keep going and reach the final.”


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