Confident Costa Rica still dreaming that crazy dream
Tactical battle in prospect as teams seek to recover from energy-sapping contests
Bryan Ruiz of Costa Rica celebrates after scoring during the penalty shootout against Greece. Photograph: EPA
Ahead of a first appearance in the quarter-finals all Costa Rica is dreaming of glory
And rather than any signs of nervousness at the exalted company it now find itself in, the team is in no mood dampen expectations back home ahead of today’s clash with the Netherlands.
“We’ve had a great Cup, but we don’t want it to end here. We feel Holland is a great team, we respect them, like all the others, but we have to be clear and say that we really believe there is a chance of beating them,” captain Bryan Ruiz told his country’s expectant media.
Costa Rica’s progress so far has been based on one of the tournament’s tightest defences, which has only conceded one goal from open play and a penalty. But coach Jorge Luis Pinto must now find the correct balance, having spoken of Mexico’s error in sitting too deeply against the Dutch. He has asked for a little more from his attack while acknowledging the risks this entails. “Chile was more aggressive [against the Dutch] but conceded spaces and Holland with space is terribly dangerous,” he noted.
Whatever scheme Pinto, a devotee of the Italian game who has already proved himself one of the tournament’s coaching revelations, decides on, the Dutch are likely in for another draining game after their late, hard-fought win over Mexico.
Costa Rica will seek to deny Holland time and space on the ball, with a five-man defence protected by a line of four in midfield, in which wide men Christian Bolaños and captain Bryan Ruiz will be responsible for breaking forward when in possession to support Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell up front.
If that hints at another hard day’s work, the Dutch can at least be grateful for small mercies. The match is an evening kick-off, which means that while it will still be hot in Salvador, there will be none of the blazing afternoon sunshine that left Dirk Kuyt looking like an overcooked tomato about to burst in Fortaleza on Sunday.
Also Costa Rica was forced to play 120 minutes against Greece and looked shattered after their 10 men valiantly dragged the game to penalties. Pinto had his players in optimum physical condition on arrival in Brazil, but the fifth game of an unexpectedly prolonged interest in the tournament will tax even their reserves of energy.
Luckily the Dutch have just the man to test their powers of recovery in Arjen Robben, who despite his 30 years never flagged in the Fortaleza furnace against Mexico, running at the defence until winning the penalty at the death that secured passage to the quarters.
His subsequent confirmation of what every football fan has known for years – that he’s a diving cheat – did not draw any punishment from Fifa, but might inhibit some of the theatrics in the box today.
But even so he will expect some return from deploying his deadly dribbling ability against Júnior Díaz, Costa Rica’s left-back, who was culpable for Sokratis’ s equaliser for Greece.
Dutch coach Louis van Gaal will also hope that Wesley Sneijder’s well-struck equaliser against Mexico was the signal the quietest of his attacking trident so far has finally shaken off the lethargy that has restricted his contributions, compared to Robben and Robin van Persie.
If Pinto has made a name for himself at the tournament, van Gaal has confirmed his worth as one of the game’s outstanding tacticians, with his ability to reshape his team multiple times during matches.
What formation he uses today will only be revealed before kick-off. Van Gaal had Bahia’s police ensure journalists and other unwanted eyes were kept away from his squad’s training sessions during the week. He must find a solution for the absence of Nigel de Jong, his midfield enforcer, out injured. A like-for-like replacement is Swansea City’s Jonathan de Guzmán. But when de Jong limped out against Mexico, it was defender Bruno Martins Indi who took his place.
But whatever option van Gaal goes for, it is unlikely to survive the full 90 minutes.