Every World Cup match is a blockbuster action movie in waiting. Even those that begin as gentle comedies eventually turn dramatic and, for one side, tragic.
It took penalty kicks to determine whether the relentless but underachieving Netherlands or above-its-head phenom Costa Rica would advance to the semifinals. And it took penalty kicks to undermine the flawless work of perhaps the best goalkeeper in the World Cup.
The Netherlands defeated Costa Rica in a 0-0 match that ended only when Los Ticos could not match Oranje's perfection in penalty kicks. Up until then, Costa Rica's keeper Keylor Navas turned in a singular performance to keep Costa Rica in the match. But he couldn't stop any of the Netherlands' four attempted penalty kicks, and his teammates could manage goals on only three of five attempts.
It was a painful end to a game that started slow but ended spectacularly. Early on, the Dutch appeared content to play a patient game, testing Los Ticos' defenses with surgical but infrequent precision. As the match wore on, however, Navas turned in an increasingly Tim Howard-esque performance, stopping shot after laser shot. For example:
The relentless Dutch shots had a final-stones-before-an-avalanche feel, but somehow the Costa Rican defense held. It all culminated in this stoppage-time madness, which somehow did not result in a match-winning goal for the Netherlands:
Costa Rica had its chances, as well, most notably in extra time as Marco Urena missed a clear opportunity for a clincher. But the story of the match remained Navas, who was spectacular right up until the final seconds. He was even able to maintain his composure as Klaas Jan Huntelaar yanked him to the ground by the face, resulting in a yellow card. Observe:
But in the penalty kick segment, Navas' luck and fortune ran out. He either guessed wrong or couldn't catch up to the Dutch strikes too many times, and Tim Krul, the Netherlands' last-second specialty replacement for Jasper Cillessen, held up his end just enough for a Netherlands victory.
The Netherlands now comprise the fourth member of a simply outstanding World Cup semifinal quartet, and will face Argentina on Wednesday. Costa Rica, meanwhile, can only dream of what could have been, an inch here, an inch there.
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