Salvador: The irresistible fairytale of Costa Rica faces a day of reckoning against Louis van Gaal’s hard, calculating Netherlands, at the Arena Fonte Nova, here, on Saturday, when the two teams clash in the last of the quarter finals.
No wonder the Dutch start as firm favourites, but they would take nothing for granted when they meet Jorge Luis Pinto’s surprise package that has already sent three former world champions packing.
Having finished above England, Italy and Uruguay in Group D, Costa Rica are seeking to become the first team from the CONCACAF region to reach the World Cup semi-finals since the United States booked a last-four berth way back in 1930, the very first edition.
Despite the talents of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz up front, it has been more a case of grit and organisation than Latin flair that brought the Ticos this far in the tournament, as they so far have conceded only two field goals in this edition.
That said, Netherlands’ firepower, having scored 12 goals in their four wins as of now, coupled with their hard-nosed approach could well end the Costa Rican party.
“We’ve been behind three times in this tournament, against Spain, Australia and Mexico and each time we managed to turn it around because we keep believing in a good result and, above all, kept going,” central defender Rob Vlaar said.
Netherlands, though, will be without their midfield destroyer in Nigel de Jong, so the likes of Ruiz and Christian Bolanos will look to drift infield to find space, as they have throughout the tournament.
Robben, Wesley Sneijder and captain Robin van Persie — although he is a doubtful starter thanks to concerns over his thigh — present a fearsome attacking trio and showed how invaluable experience they can come up with by not panicking despite being on the cusp of elimination against Mexico.
While coach Van Gaal has played his cards close to his chest, speculation continues on whether Daley Blind will be moved from left-back to central midfield or Jonathan de Guzman or Jordy Clasie come in for De Jong.
Costa Rica must contend with the absence of utility back Roy Miller and the suspended Oscar Duarte but hope goalkeeper Keylor Navas, hero of their shoot-out triumph over Greece in the pre-quarters, will recover from the shoulder injury that curtailed his ability to train this week.
The performance of their defensive unit has been a major part of their success in Brazil. But any chance of success probably rests on the attacking prowess of Campbell and Ruiz, who is well known to the Dutch having spent two seasons at Twente Enschede and the last six months on loan at PSV Eindhoven.
“Bryan is very quick and sharp, we’ll have to watch him carefully,” Vlaar told reporters.
Ruiz, on his part, believes Costa Rica are capable of shocking the Dutch — a seismic upset for the World Cup, but one which would find favour with neutrals and romantics.
“Saturday’s game is like a final for us, but we don’t want to stop there,” said Ruiz. “Netherlands are a great team, but I have to be honest and say that we have a good chance of beating them.
“Now, we do have to take care of a lot of details if we want to win.”