SALVADOR, Brazil — Louis van Gaal's gamble paid off.
The Netherlands coach brought on Tim Krul for a penalty shootout, entrusting him instead of the goalkeeper who'd played every second of the World Cup. But Krul came up with two big saves to give the Dutch a 4-3 edge in penalties and send them into the semifinals for a second World Cup in a row.
When Krul batted away Michael Umana's shot to seal the victory, he let out a roar and the rest of the Dutch team raced out to congratulate him. First off the bench was Jasper Cillessen, who was so angry at being subbed that he threw down his gloves and kicked over a water bottle.
Another game makes everything better, however, and the Netherlands will now play Argentina on Wednesday in Sao Paulo.
The finish ended a surprising – and wildly entertaining — run by Costa Rica. Drawn into the "Group of Champions" with Italy, Uruguay and England, Los Ticos weren't given much chance of advancing, let alone winning the group.
But Costa Rica went toe-to-toe with the big boys, and they did so again Saturday night.
The Netherlands dominated the game both in terms of possession (64 percent) and chances (a whopping 15-3 edge in shots on goal). But Keylor Navas came up with one huge save after another, and the Ticos pesky defense made the normally unflappable Dutch look frantic as the game wore on.
The pace grew more and more frenetic – and more and more entertaining – as the Netherlands scrambled for a goal and the Ticos did whatever necessary to keep the ball out of the net.
And as the game headed into extra time and then penalties, it seemed as if the soccer gods might be exacting some payback for the Netherlands' ugly play in the 2010 final and its tendency to dive and embellish here.
Wesley Sneijder hit the post in the 82nd, and Robin van Persie missed what is normally a gimme for him at the end of regulation. Getting the ball just beyond the edge of the 6-yard box, with Navas out of position, van Persie shot only to have Yeltsin Tejeda clear it off the line, banging it up and against the cross bar.
The Netherlands had one more chance, but Sneijder banged the ball off the crossbar in the 119th minute, sending the game into a shootout.
Van Gaal is one of the savviest coaches around – there's a reason he's heading to Manchester United when the World Cup is done – and he's made all the right moves in Brazil. But his decision to Cillessen was a head-scratcher.
After all, Cillessen had played every game, and Krul doesn't exactly have a reputation as a penalty killer – unlike Navas, who shut down Greece a few days ago.
But if Krul was nervous, he didn't show it, taunting several of the Ticos as they got ready to take their shots. Though Celso Borges made Costa Rica's first penalty, Krul got his hands on Bryan Ruiz's shot. When Arjen Robben put his shot into the bottom corner of the net, the Dutch had the edge.
Navas, so brilliant all night and in the game against Greece suddenly lost his touch. He guessed wrong on both Robben and Sneijder's shots, and couldn't stop Dirk Kuyt's. That meant all Krul had to do was save one more and the Dutch were into the semis.
He did, making van Gaal look like a genius.