The Costa Rican national football team find themselves on the precipice of greatness. The tiny nation of 4 million, by far the smallest country left in the tournament, could reach the World Cup semifinals if they can manage to upend yet another European power, this time the Dutch. Both teams squeaked by in the Round of 16. The Oranje scored two goals in the last six minutes of their match against Mexico, while Los Ticos won on penalty kicks over Greece, playing with a man-down for most of the second half and all of extra time.
Over the past season, Navas has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the entire world. He led an out-manned Levante side to tenth in La Liga, which is pretty impressive, considering the fact that they only scored 35 goals in 38 games. Navas had 16 shutouts, second only to Atletico Madrid’s Thibault Courtouis (who played behind a more adept defense), and led the league in saves and save percentage, all the while being battered by the second most shots out of any goalkeeper in the league. He also denied the best player in the world with two saves in a matter of seconds, and later added another incredible stop to seal a draw against Barcelona.
The Oranje, however, are no strangers to beating top quality goalkeepers in the 2014 World Cup. They fully embarrassed a man inhabiting the body of the former top keeper in the world, Iker Casillas, in their 5-1 romp over Spain in their opening round game, and then put two past Barcelona-bound Claudio Bravo in the last game of the group stage. After being held in check for 88 minutes, the Dutch finally broke through against Guillermo Ochoa, previously rumored to be either a brick wall or Gandalfiño after his stellar performance against Brazil. Navas will need to be at the top of his form on Saturday if Los Ticos have a chance at advancing.
Attack the Flanks with Pace
In the Round of 16 matchup against Mexico, the injury to Nigel de Jong put the state of the Dutch team in flux. Louis van Gaal trotted out a hodgepodge of lineups before settling on a 4-3-3. Daley Blind moved from his left back position and filled in admirably for de Jong, but he left a noticeable weakness at outside back, which was filled by Dirk Kuyt and some combination of the other four central defenders on the field. Against Costa Rica, van Gaal will likely trot out a lineup with Dirk Kuyt on one side and possibly Daryl Janmaat on the other. It’s unclear whether the Dutch will play a 5-4-1 or a 4-3-3, but either way, Costa Rica will be able to exploit the flanks.
Brian Ruiz has had a wonderful tournament on the right side, and fullbacks Cristian Gamboa and Junior Diaz have had a plethora of dangerous moments rampaging down the sides from the back. Most of Costa Rica’s goals have come from clever combination play on the sides, opening up the middle of the defense for Joel Campbell.
The Dutch just haven’t seemed to click since their revenge-filled victory over Spain, and their on-and-off play culminated in a fortunate victory over Mexico, who very well may have deserved the loss by dropping back into a shell with about ten minutes to play. One of Costa Rica’s greatest strength throughout this tournament has been their ability to physically outlast the opposing team and still maintain possession late in the game, even against the likes of teams such as Uruguay and Italy (not to mention when they were down a man vs. Greece). If Los Ticos can outlast the Netherlands again Saturday, they have a very real opportunity to make history, and advance to within a game of the World Cup Final.