By Mark Gleeson
SALVADOR, Brazil, July 5 (Reuters) - Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said their World Cup quarter-final win on penalties was the result of substitute keeper Tim Krul's long reach and a close study of Costa Rica's last match, which also ended in a shootout.
Regular keeper Jasper Cillessen, who was replaced by Krul shortly before the end of extra time, was kept in the dark about the plan so as not to distract him during normal play, Van Gaal said of his unorthodox, and ultimately successful switch.
"We had figured that out," he told reporters on Saturday, after the Netherlands edged Costa Rica 4-3 on penalties, after the match had ended 0-0 after 120 minutes.
"Everyone in the squad has certain qualities, and it doesn't always come out. We found among the keepers that Tim Krul was the best to save penalties because he has a longer reach and because we watched the Costa Rica penalties.
"We studied their penalties and you can see that Krul picked the right corners. I'm really proud that the work paid off. I did not tell Jasper Cillessen about the plan before the game, because I did not want it to distract him."
Going into penalties, the Dutch were seeking to improve on their record of one victory in five previous shootouts in major tournaments.
The towering Krul twice dived low to his left to thwart efforts from Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana, while the Dutch fired home all four of their penalties.
In their previous match, Costa Rica scored all five penalties to beat Greece and earn a place in the last eight.
DOMINATION, BUT NO GOALS
The Netherlands dominated Saturday's game in Salvador, enjoying 64 percent of possession and having 15 shots on target to Costa Rica's three.
But even with a three-pronged attack comprising Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay, the Dutch could not break down Costa Rica, although they hit the woodwork three times and were facing an inspired keeper in Keylor Navas.
Van Gaal suggested he was having doubts about his tactics as the game wore on.
"I asked the players if we should carry on with the tactics when we had breaks, and they all said an emphatic 'yes' to me," he said.
He also expressed frustration at what he considered to be time-wasting by Costa Rica, who appeared to be the happier of the two sides to take the game to penalties.
"My players carried themselves well with the time-wasting, which the referee did little to stop," said Van Gaal.
"I must take my hat off to my squad. It is very frustrating for us as we sit on the sidelines. You know that if you miss so many chances the game can turn."
That turning point nearly came in the 117th minute, when, in a rare break, Marco Urena found space to get a powerful shot on target, but Cillessen was up to the task and blocked it.
"Before that, not one chance," said Van Gaal. "But it could have been a different story... that is the football life of a coach."
Looking ahead to Wednesday's semi-final against Argentina in Sao Paulo, the Dutch coach said they were in for a tough time.
"Make no mistake, Argentina are a very strong team with very strong individuals, like (Lionel) Messi," he told a news conference, referring to the South Americans' feared forward. (Writing by Mike Collett-White; editing by Ken Ferris)