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When and Where
4 PM ET, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, Brazil
Last Match: 2-1 win vs Mexico
It wasn't easy, or pretty for that matter, but the Dutch pulled off the dramatic, late comeback to oust Mexico. In truth, the better team lost. Mexico had the better of the play and controlled the pace for much of the match, but the talent on the Netherlands won out in the end, in controversial fashion. The Dutch deserved their tying goal. Their onslaught of offense was finished off by Wesley Sneijder in the 88th minute to tie it. Extra time was right around the corner, but Arjen Robben had other ideas. He brought the ball into the box and was foolishly challenged by Rafael Marquez. Did Robben embellish? Yeah, a bit, but Marquez had no business attempting to challenge the ball, especially knowing the reputation Robben has for diving. Robben's quick feet were dragged until they struck Marquez's and down he went. Penalty kick awarded. Klaas Jan Huntelaar took it and drilled it (and dropped kick the corner flag). The Netherlands were through to the quarterfinals.
Key Player: Arjen Robben
It is amazing how fast Robben is at 30 years old. He is a blur. Usually, a player loses a step or two, but not him. And his feet, my lord are they quick. Yes, he has a propensity for diving. Surprisingly, he admitted to diving in the game against Mexico. Not for the one that mattered, but still, at least he knows what he's doing. But his ability to burst down the field and create scoring chances are nearly unparalleled in the sport. If Holland has a scoring chance, Arjen Robben is most likely involved.
Why They Will Win
Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie are probably the best one-two punch in the World Cup. They play off each other very well. Robben brings the ball up, while van Persie uses his size and strength to make dangerous runs into the box and positions himself for headers. A terrifying tandem to defend. If you overcommit to Robben, he can pass it to van Persie. If you overcommit to van Persie, than Robben can finish it off with his amazing left foot. And as a nation, they play a tough, physical football that can wear down any opponent (even themselves perhaps, as they looked a step slow against Mexico).
Last Match: 1-1 vs Greece (advanced on penalties 5-3)
What. A. Grind. The Ticos played with all the heart and determination that make sports great. Down to ten men at the 66th minute, after a second yellow was handed to Óscar Duarte, Costa Rica held on for dear life to their 1-0 lead. In injury time, that lead was no more. Sokratis Papastathopoulos - sheesh, say that name ten times fast - broke the Costa Rican hearts and sent the game to extra time, where no one broke through. Disappointing for the Greeks, who played up a man for nearly half the game and barely mustered any sort of attack. They needed to do better against ten men. In the penalties, Costa Rica calmly netted all five of their attempts. Their cinderella run continues.
Key Player: Bryan Ruiz
He scored their lone goal against Greece with a perfectly placed shot. He also scored against Italy en route to their 1-0 upset. He has had quite the World Cup captaining Costa Rica and he will look for one more stunning upset against the Dutch. He provides the leadership for this team that has defied the odds up to this point.
Why They Will Win
They have made it this far on grit and determination. Their fitness has been outstanding and was on showcase last match as they played with ten men for nearly half the game. Netherlands had a tough time keeping up with Mexico last match, which could prove worrisome for the Dutch, who look to make a second consecutive appearance into the semi-finals. If the Costa Ricans pull off the upset, look to Ruiz and burner Joel Campbell to initiate their attacks. Both have looked impressive this World Cup.
Who You Should Root For
CONCACAF UNITE! If you asked me what CONCACAF participant would make it to the quarterfinals, I would have surely said the US or Mexico. Nope, it is tiny Costa Rica. They have won me over - and many others - with their spirited play and look to shock the world one more time. Also, it is tough to root for the Netherlands after how they played against Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. Dutch players drop kicking corner flags: OK. Dutch players drop kicking opponents: NOT OK.
And if you like true underdogs, then this is your team. This is on par with VCU making the Final Four in 2011. Improbable result after improbable result. Costa Rica has made it this far, what is one more upset?
Netherlands wins 1-0
Costa Rica played with ten men for so long against Greece, which has to be worrisome. They will probably have some tired legs, despite how well their fitness has been so far. And on paper, the Netherlands have one of the most talented squads in the world. Although their match against Mexico was far from great, I like them to rebound today and return to the form we saw from them in the group stage, where they scored a whopping 10 goals in three games. Costa Rica knows they are the less talented squad, and although they have played admirably against the likes of Italy and Uruguay, I don't see them playing that aggressively against the Dutch. I look for them to sit back and wait patiently for their opportunity. It is the classic underdog strategy that almost worked to perfection for the US (damn you Chris Wondolowski! You were on the team for one reason!). If Costa Rica gets a golden opportunity, they need to bury it or they will likely be heading home.
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