Few people (if any) would have expected the Dutch to thrash the defending world champions Spain in their opening group game at Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador. Fewer still would have expected Costa Rica to qualify ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay. As both these teams prepare to face off against each other in their quarterfinal clash at the same venue, the Dutch will start as favourites. However it would be a folly to rule out Costa Rica who seem to be relishing the underdog tag thus far.
While a section of the Dutch supporters continue to lament the defensive approach adopted by their team, coach Louis Van Gaal seems unperturbed in his new found pragmatic approach, which may not be aesthetically pleasing all the time, but has proven to be effective.
Holland changed their formation in this tournament from a typical LVG 4-3-3 to an unconventionally defensive minded 5-3-2 (at least to begin with). The injury which prevented Kevin Strootman from making the trip to Brazil is believed to have been instrumental in this change of plan. However, this quarterfinal throws up another curve-ball for the Dutch who have to make do without their midfield lynchpin Nigel de Jong who is out with a groin injury. In his absence, Daley Blind will most probably play the pivotal enforcer role in midfield and his ability to break play when Holland are not in possession will be crucial.
While Robin Van Persie seems to have calmed down after his blistering start to the tournament, Arjen Robben has continued to tighten his stranglehold over opposition defenders. He has been fast, fearless and disdainful towards his markers and even has even found the willingness to pass the ball to a team mate in the final third. Along with RVP and Wesley Sneijder, this experienced triumvirate will look to finish the match before Costa Rica can start playing.
For Costa Rica, the World Cup quarterfinal is hitherto uncharted territory. While that may be a cause for concern, it may also instill fearlessness in their game play which has already seen Jorge Luis Pinto’s side beat heavyweights like Uruguay and Italy. The Los Ticos as they call themselves will look to captain, Brian Ruiz, who has been in superb form throughout the tournament and Arsenal forward Joel Campbell to take advantage of the inexperienced Holland defence. However, they will miss defender Óscar Duarte who was red carded against Greece in the marathon Round of 16 match, which Costa Rica eventually won on penalties. Even his probable replacement Roy Miller who picked up a left foot injury, is a major doubt for the match Despite the weakened back line of the Costa Ricans, Netherlands will have to find a way to beat goalkeeper Keylor Navas who is in tremendous form and has conceded just two goals in the entire tournament.
The setting could not have been better. The stakes could not have been higher. The Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador has been witness to 24 goals in just five games and given the attacking talent on display from both sides, it would not be preposterous to expect this match to add substantially to this quota. As far as the teams are concerned, Netherlands have always been accused of belying expectations the moment they are raised in major tournaments. On the other hand, Costa Rica has already exceeded expectations and is a victory away from being the first Central American team since USA in 1930 to qualify for the semifinals. Although Netherlands will start the game as favorites, Costa Rica beating them does not sound as absurd as it would have in the first week of June. A worthy testament to what has been thus far, a fantastic World Cup.