Costa Rica was supposed to have gone home a long time ago.
Before Brazil, it had qualified for only three World Cups, making it out of the group stage only once. It was no better then the third-best qualifier from its own region.
But on Saturday it won a ton of respect, playing the Netherlands to a scoreless draw over 120 minutes to set up a shootout before ultimately losing in penalty kicks, 4-3, and its World Cup quarterfinal in Salvador, Brazil.
All four Dutch shooters scored in the shootout while goalkeeper, Tim Krul, who subbed into the game for the final minute of overtime, stopped Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana, Costa Rica's second and fifth shooters, to seal the victory.
Having survived two tough tests from CONCACAF teams – the Netherlands beat Mexico, 2-1, in its second-round game--the Dutch will go on to play Argentina and Lionel Messi in Wednesday's semifinal in Sao Paulo.
This game shouldn't have been that close. It certainly wasn't on paper.
The Dutch, three-time World Cup runners-up, are ranked 15th in the world -- and that was before they blitzed No. 1 Spain to get this tournament started.
Costa Rica is ranked 28th.
The Dutch came into the quarterfinals leading this World Cup in scoring with 12 goals.
Costa Rica had five, the fewest of any team to advance this far.
Yet Costa Rica won a group that featured three former World Cup champions in England, Italy and Uruguay.
And on Saturday, bidding to become the first CONCACAF team to reach the World Cup semifinals since 1930, the Central Americans certainly didn't play like underdogs with goalkeeper Keylor Navas turning in a remarkable first half in which he frustrated the high-scoring Dutch strikers with four outstanding saves to keep the game scoreless at the break.
And he got better in the second half.
His teammates did little to help them, though. They managed just five shots--and didn't put any of those on goal until the late in the second overtime. And they had the ball just a third of the time.
The Dutch took 16 shots, 12 of them on target.
Part of that was by design, though. By ceding possession, Costa Rica hoped to score on a counterattack following a Netherlands turnover.
It also might have been playing for a tie, hoping to force the kind of penalty-kick shootout it won against Greece last week.
In any case, while the turnovers occasionally came, a Costa Rican score did not.
The Netherlands nearly got one in the 80th minute, though, but Wesley Sneijder's free kick from 25 yards banged off the post. It rebounded straight out, striking a surprised Dutch attacker, before quickly being cleared away by a Costa Rican defender.
Moments later Robin van Persie came in on a breakaway but he couldn't finish off the chance.
And neither of those qualified as the best Dutch threat in the final 10 minutes. First a Sneijder cross found a wide-open Van Persie on top of the goal at the far post only to see the Manchester United striker fan on the shot. Then a wild scramble inside the six-yard box produced no fewer than three shots--none of which found their way into the net.
Then, in the final minute of overtime, Dutch Coach Louis van Gaal, who had saved started planning for a penalty-kick shootout, replaced starting keeper Jasper Cillessen with Krul.
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