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Jun 30, 2014

Netherlands vs. Costa Rica: 50-50 preview

NetherlandsNetherlands
Costa RicaCosta Rica
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Match 59
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ESPN FC's Steve Nicol contends that Costa Rica have been thoroughly impressive thus far and can upset Netherlands.

Netherlands sneaked into the quarterfinals following their late show against Mexico, while Costa Rica's fairytale continued with victory over Greece on penalties to get to this stage. Elko Born (Netherlands) and Matt Levin (Costa Rica) preview the tie.

Sum up your tournament so far

Elko Born: Expectations were low for Netherlands ahead of the tournament, but after victories against Spain, Chile and Mexico, that has changed. No longer able to manoeuvre themselves into the position of underdog, the Dutch will go into the quarterfinal as one of the stronger teams in the tournament. This could cause them to worry, but, while Dutch teams of the past have often reacted poorly to pressure, there is a feeling it might be different this time around.

Matt Levin: The small Central American country has been the big surprise of the World Cup. The Ticos have carried the CONCACAF banner into the quarterfinals and along the way have defeated four-time tournament champions Italy and two-time champions Uruguay. That and a tie with 1966 World Cup winners England was enough for Costa Rica to top Group D. That triumph set them up in the second round with Greece and their negative football. Team captain and Fulham outcast Bryan Ruiz scored first in the 52nd minute, but a second yellow card for defender Oscar Duarte forced the Ticos to hold on for dear life the rest of the way. The Greeks equalised but would never crack goalie Keylor Navas, who played the game of his life in keeping his team alive in both regulation, overtime and penalty kicks. His teammates put on a clinic in the spot kicks, nailing all five attempts and sending La Sele to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time ever.

World Cup history between the two countries 

EB: Netherlands have never faced Costa Rica before. The only player the Dutch will certainly be familiar with is Costa Rica's star man Ruiz, who has played for FC Twente and PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie.

ML: Due to Costa Rica's limited World Cup history, these teams have never met before in a senior-level match. However, serious Tico fans do recall their country's 3-1 victory over the Netherlands at the Under-20 World Cup in Argentina in 2001. None of the players on that Costa Rican squad are on the current roster in Brazil, but the Dutch side did include 17-year-olds Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and, indeed, Louis van Gaal was the manager at the time. So those are three members of the Dutch team who knew the Ticos were capable of major upsets long before the World Cup started.

What are your expectations for the rest of the tournament?

EB: The tournament has seen Netherlands go through the high of putting five past Spain to the low of facing seemingly certain elimination against Mexico. So far, it has truly been a roller-coaster ride. But having come this far, the Dutch will now want to see things through all the way to the end.

Especially after their hard-fought comeback against Mexico, there is a feeling in the country that fortune is on Netherlands' side. This time around, everything seems to be going right for Oranje, even when they seem to be going wrong.

ML: Some fans seemed relieved to avoid hated rivals Mexico in the quarterfinals. For all the success Costa Rica have had in Brazil, supporters still didn't want their greatest nemesis to have the chance to eliminate them. Plus, the Netherlands seem like a more worthy opponent to potentially lose to, and the Dutch might just be the tournament favourite at this point. The Ticos don't seem to be backing down from the challenge that awaits them in the quarterfinals, but Costa Rica have plenty to overcome if they're going to shock the Dutch. Yellow cards and injuries are piling up. Exhaustion will be a factor, too, after the team went the distance against Greece. Yet La Sele will hope for more scorching weather in Salvador de Bahia. The Netherlands suffered in the sun against Mexico in the round of 16, while the Ticos have used the Brazilian humidity to their advantage against their European opponents. No matter what happens the rest of the way in Brazil, the team will return home as superstars. They've already accomplished the greatest performance in Costa Rica football history.

Arjen Robben and the Netherlands hope to leap past another CONCACAF side in Saturday's quarterfinal versus Costa Rica.
Arjen Robben and the Netherlands hope to leap past another CONCACAF side in Saturday's quarterfinal versus Costa Rica.

Key battle

EB: Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder have shown they can be relied upon for goals, and so victory should be within reach for the Dutch, as long as they can prevent their opponents from scoring.

On Costa Rica's side, goals are most likely to come from frontman Ruiz, who found the net against Italy and Greece. Netherlands' defenders, who might remember Ruiz from his time at FC Twente and PSV Eindhoven, must therefore do whatever it takes to neutralise the Costa Rica attacker. Expect Ron Vlaar to be picked as the man to fulfil this task.

ML: Robben and van Persie versus Costa Rica's defence. This is the scariest attack Costa Rica's impressive back line have faced all tournament -- and they'll likely confront the Netherlands with newcomer Johnny Acosta at centre-back. The Costa Rica national league veteran represents quite the drop-off in talent from Duarte (suspended) and his backup Roy Miller (injured). Nevertheless, this team's World Cup run has been more about players working together in coach Jorge Luis Pinto's system than individual talent. That's why the Ticos have been able to shut down Italy's Mario Balotelli and England's Daniel Sturridge, among other top strikers. The health of Navas -- who's dealing with a shoulder injury -- will be paramount for La Sele. Also worth noting is the meeting of the minds on the sidelines. Costa Rica's Pinto and the Netherlands' Van Gaal have been perhaps the two best managers in Brazil. Pinto's excellent game planning prepared his team to outplay former World Cup champions. Van Gaal, the newly anointed head of Manchester United, turned the Oranje from a popular group-stage upset pick to a team on course for their second consecutive World Cup final.

Prediction

EB: Costa Rica might manage to score once, but if they do, the Dutch will score twice. I expect Netherlands to win 2-1 and reach the last four.

ML: 3-1 Netherlands. The hotter the temperature in Salvador, the better the Ticos' chance to slow the Dutch. Even though the Netherlands shouldn't expect to cakewalk into the semifinals, this feels like the end of Costa Rica's Cinderella run.

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