Leading into the semi-final against the Netherlands,
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella is going to have a few
sleepless nights. He is about to run into a man who has quite
clearly established himself as the best coach of the 2014
With time running out in the second half of the extra time, the
Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal stepped up and made the
change. He took the regular keeper Jasper Cillessen off and
sent on Tim Krul.
On first impression, it just seemed like a smart psychological
ploy. Send a man in just ahead of the penalty shootout,
confuse the Costa Ricans, throw them off just enough to
make the difference. Also make them wonder — is he really a
Sitting on the outside — Krul statistics against penalties
weren’t that great. For example, the Newcastle United
goalkeeper faced five penalties in the Premier League last
season, but he didn’t save a single one. If one went a little
deeper, then he had saved just two of the 20 penalties he has
faced in the Premier League over the last five seasons.
The Costa Ricans, however, didn’t know that. It was a move
that would have invoked some additional pressure at least.
But then again, you wonder — getting in a keeper from the
cold to replace someone who had not conceded and was
seeing the ball well. But Van Gaal had made up his mind and
his players have learned not to argue.
Secondly, this was something Van Gaal had planned. He
trained Krul in the dark arts of stopping penalties and then
convinced the others that he was making complete sense.
There was no talk of ego; this is about the team and not an
Van Gaal’s decision making at times can seem devoid of
emotion. Cold, rational and to the point of almost seeming
rude. But he has this team responding to him and his whims.
Krul guessed right on all five penalties and he saved two. In
between, he walked up the Costa Rica penalty takers and
trash-talked them. There was no guarantee that he would have
saved any but Gaal has given him the freedom to go out there
and do his thing. The pressure in a sense was as much on the
coach as it was on Krul.
The Dutch were the better side through — they hit the
woodwork thrice and spent a majority of the match in Costa
Rica’s half. It wasn’t until late in the match that Costa Rica
finally started getting a few looks at the Dutch goal.
After the match, Louis van Gaal said: “I thought we had more
quality than Costa Rica. I thought that with three strikers we
could hurt them more”
With some teams, there is a lack of a plan B, with Van Gaal
that never seems to be the case. He changes formations,
positions of players and players. So much so, that he has all
23 believing that they are needed.
“This is what you work for seven weeks. Now you can see,
you have to do this with all 23 men,” said Krul after the game.
Late in the game, Van Gaal took off Martins Indi and got on
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. A defender for a striker. He was hunting
for a win and he almost got it. But when the change didn’t
work, he had another plan lined up.
“Frans Hoek came to me and said: “If we have a sub left
there’s a chance you’ll have to come in”. And then it
happened.” Krul added.
While obviously elated by Krul’s performance, Gaal was
pretty clear about who his main keeper was: “Jasper has done
extremely well. There is no question who will be in goal next
time, Jasper knows that.”
Van Gaal’s strength has been the way he has managed to
bring this squad together. And he will be hoping that is
enough to take him past Lionel Messi’s Argentina as well.
For now, it’s back to the drawing table. Asked about the
match against Argentina, van Gaal nonchalantly said: “We’ll
make a plan and then we’ll just see what happens.”
Let the mind games begin. This is going to be fun.