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As we move into the latter stages of the competition, we will look ahead to the enthralling encounters with three key tactical questions that could determine which way this game swings. Ameya Ghag here has a look at the Netherlands vs Costa Rica World Cup Quarter-Final clash.
Rising atop a group containing world-champions, Spain, Asian… No, Oceanian, oh darn… Australia and Latin American power house, Chile, the completely unfancied Dutch circus has entered the quarter-finals. And lo, behold… They are facing Costa Rica, a tiny block of land sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, with a population of just over 4.5 million.
Not an opposition I’d fancy to put up a fight otherwise, but this is the FIFA World Cup in Brasil and the creme de la creme of Europe have already been sent packing home. And the Ticos were responsible for two of those, not that any one really expected England to lift that misshapen piece of gold at the Maracana. It’s not a secret anymore, why two of the most unfancied teams in the tournament, will be fighting it out for a berth in the semi finals. It couldn’t be simpler than these two names: Louis van Gaal and Jorge Luis Pinto.
Until now, the Dutch have faced sides which have relied heavily on possession play, thus offering them the advantage of scoring freely on counter-attacks, which is oft considered a major flaw of the passing game. Spain, Chile and Mexico were teams who would often press high up the pitch, leaving a great deal of width exposed around their defense, for the likes of Arjen Robben to exploit.
In all probability, the Dutch will be afforded a higher percentage of possession against Costa Rica, granting the Ticos the liberty to counter attack more freely. The Costa Ricans will look to build up play from far-wide, with the help of Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos, providing support to Joel Campbell in the center.
Campbell may not be the best in the business yet, but he does offer amazing raw pace and the ability to handle long passes with exceptional dexterity. This could well create problems for the Dutch back-line lead by the veteran, Ron Vlaar. Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar may not be the most heralded defender at the tournament, but the veteran center-back has been successful at shutting down the likes of Diego Costa.
For two tournaments in succession, the formidable Nigel de Jong has been earning praise for his performances at the heart of the Dutch midfield. He is the essential thug, the destroyer in the midfield, that has allowed the attacking armada up front to score freely on counter attacks. With de Jong potentially ruled out for the remainder of the tournament, Louis van Gaal’s midfield woes haven’t been worse since the injury to Kevin Strootman.
At the heart of the midfield, de Jong has been an exceptional interceptor, recovering 22 balls over the last 3 games. Rarely has he been dispossessed cheaply through out the tournament. A natural suggestion to replace de Jong would be Daley Blind, for the Ajax man has been deployed in the destroyer role for his club, while alternating at his usual posting on the left. Louis van Gaal’s side has consistently emphasized on counter attacks and requires a hard hitting defensive midfielder like de Jong, to support Robben and van Persie up front.
By no means, can Daley Blind be considered as a solid option for the said role. Instead he is a much evolved passer and could offer much for the creative part. Dos Santos’s goal in the Round of 16 could be partly attributed to a fault of Blind, who failed to close in on the Villareal man, allowing him space to chest down the ball and knock it in.
It is likely that Blind will immediately replace de Jong in the starting XI as the destroyer, alongside Georginio Wijnaldum. 5 – 3 – 2 could be the way to go with Kuyt again operating at left-back Bruno Martins Indi to the left of Ron Vlaar.
The five man defense at the back has been the strong point of Costa Rica’s campaign so far and has saw them through to the quarters. But the major concern for Pinto, heading into tomorrow’s fixture will be the loss of Oscar Duarte, who was carded off during their win during the Round of 16. Roy Miller would have been a direct substitute in that role, had he not succumbed to a leg injury. It is likely that defender Jhonny Acosta or midfielder Jose Miguel Cuberi will be deputized at the heart of the Tico’s defense now.
If five defenders are to be deputized to nullify the Dutch offense, the lone-man upfront, Joel Campbell will be easily subdued by Ron Vlaar & Co, who would be expected to line-up in a similar fashion. The greatest advantage for Costa Rica would be the way in which Robin van Persie was kept at bay by the Mexican defense. But the main threat lies in the form of Arjen Robben who continues to cut in-wards from the right to join van Persie as a second striker.
The 30 year old Dutchman has been in sensational form during this tournament and is likely to test the skills of Keylor Navas often. Also, much will be expected of Bryan Ruiz to link the defense and the front-line, ensuring that Joel Campbell is not isolated up front.
The Ticos play in a fashion similar to the European opponents, but will have to ensure that they deprive the Dutch of the ball as often as possible. Bereft of possession, the Dutch are likely to commit errors that Costa Rica could capitalize on to net in an early goal. Even then the Dutch are more than likely to mount an even fierce counter-attack and put themselves back in the game, as was evident against the Socceroos.
This game could be a close call, but I’ll put my money on the Dutch, who have been the most coordinated side in all departments during the tournament. The player’s to watch out for, certainly would be Joel Campbell, Daley Blind and Arjen Robben.
Thank you for reading. What are your thoughts on the game and do you see some other important questions that need addressing? Let us know with a comment below. Please share this piece through one of the buttons below, you don’t have to but we’d appreciate it if you do!