Salvador (Brazil), July 5 (AFP): Substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul saved two penalties in a dramatic shoot-out as the Netherlands edged Costa Rica 4-3 to reach the World Cup semi-finals here last evening.
After a goalless 120 minutes, the towering Newcastle United custodian came on at the end of extra time and he saved shots from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana to win the quarter-final for the Dutch.
It was another masterstroke from Manchester United-bound coach Louis van Gaal, who despite his ingenuity was unable to engineer a breakthrough in normal and extra time.
Costa Rica rarely threatened and appeared content to play for penalties, their strong suit after goalkeeper Keylor Navas kept out Greece in a shoot-out in the last 16.
But their bluff was called and after Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt all buried their kicks, the outstretched Krul denied Umana to seal the win.
The thrilling shoot-out came after a match in which goalkeeping also featured strongly when the Dutch hit the woodwork three times and were repeatedly denied by Navas.
Their first chance came when Kuyt squared it to Memphis Depay, who found Van Persie in the area but had his close-range shot well blocked by Navas.
The goalkeeper then spared Ruiz’s blushes, after his captain gave the ball away on the halfway line, when he stopped smartly from Depay.
Robben’s frank admission to diving dominated the build-up but Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmanov had no delay in awarding free-kicks when he went down twice in quick succession.
And Sneijder nearly buried the second when he curled it past the wall, only for his goal-bound shot to be denied by Navas’s fabulous flying, one-handed save.
The Levante ‘keeper was again on his toes when he came out quickly to dive on Robben’s through-ball just ahead of the on-rushing Van Persie.
The Netherlands were starting to carve Costa Rica open but despite 63 percent of possession in the opening half, they went into the break goalless.
Costa Rica hadn’t had a shot on target but they had a chance on the hour when Junior Diaz surged and found Campbell, who went sprawling but had his penalty claim denied.
Costa Rica withdrew Campbell for Marcos Urena, and they were forced into another change when midfielder Cristian Gamboa was stretchered off and replaced by Dave Myrie.
Dutch coach Van Gaal threw on Jeremain Lens for Depay in a bid to avoid extra time, and Sneijder nearly broke the deadlock when he hammered a free-kick against the near post.
Navas again denied Van Persie from close range, and with two minutes remaining the sharpshooter appeared to have it won when Sneijder floated a ball over the defence.
But Van Persie, scorer of a magnificent diving header in the Dutch win against Spain, embarrassingly swung and missed with his favoured left foot with the goal at his mercy.
In injury time, the Dutch appeared cursed as Daley Blind’s ball ran across the face, missing a forest of outstretched legs, and Van Persie’s shot was deflected onto the bar.
Extra-time began for the sixth time this World Cup and Navas rescued Costa Rica again when he turned away Ron Vlaar’s header before needing treatment after a clash with Kuyt.
After they changed ends for the final time, Robben painfully clashed heads with Johnny Acosta and substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was booked for colliding with Navas.
With penalties looming, Urena threatened to snatch it for Costa Rica when he broke clear, but he was denied by goalkeeper Jan Cillessen.
And almost immediately at the other end, Sneijder hit the woodwork for the second time when he smashed a curling shot off the crossbar.
Van Gaal withdrew Cillessen for the 1.93m (six feet three inches) Krul exactly on 120 minutes for the penalties.
And his judgement looked impeccable when Krul saved Costa Rica’s second kick, struck by Ruiz, and then palmed away Umana’s low and one-handed before racing away in triumph.