Bruno Martins Indi
Stefan de Vrij
Robin van Persie
With a characteristic flourish, Louis van Gaal did it again. Tim Krul, the Newcastle goalkeeper who had not touched a ball in this World Cup before Van Gaal sent him on for Jasper Cillessen at the end of extra time, was Holland's hero on a breathless night that broke Costa Rica hearts.
It was the substitute Krul – tall, imposing and doing his best to unsettle his opponents – who saved the second kick from the Costa Rica captain, Bryan Ruiz, and a weak fifth from Michael Umaña to take Holland through.
It was an unusual, and characteristically bold, move at the end of a goalless game in which Los Ticos had given them an almighty scare.
Holland's penalty heartache in major championships is second only to England's but they were nerveless at the end of a match when a remorseless, relentless Arjen Robben had driven his side to do everything but score against a defiant Costa Rica side.
But there was beauty and organisation in their determination and, allied to the brilliance of their goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, Ruiz's exhausted players dragged their side to the very brink of one of the biggest ever World Cup shocks.
It was ultimately the senior players around whom Van Gaal has built the backbone of his side – Robin van Persie, Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt – who nervelessly tucked away their penalties to book a semi-final with Argentina. Increasingly, they will believe this World Cup is theirs.
They took time to get going but as Robben willed them on they laid siege to the Costa Rica goal from midway through the second half onwards.
In the last 10 minutes of normal time alone, they hit the frame of the goal twice. Overall, they had 15 shots on target, hitting the woodwork three times and finding Navas again in sublime form.
It has been a remarkable World Cup for Costa Rica, emerging from the so-called “group of death” to overcome Greece with 10 men and only failing here at the last.
In truth, the Dutch should have won in normal time. But neither Van Gaal nor his players panicked. His golden touch appeared to have deserted him when he hurled on first Jeremain Lens and then Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, his saviour against Mexico, to little effect.
Strutting into the stadium like a peacock, he again shuffled his pack for this game. Missing Nigel de Jong, Van Gaal ditched the 5-3-2 shape that has been a bone of contention for some in Holland and overhauled his personnel to give his side more attacking intent.
In the first half Robben and Van Persie tried to make inroads and get their disjointed team firing. Memphis Depay and Van Persie spurned decent chances but Costa Rica stood firm. Van Gaal has repeatedly underlined the importance of the collective over the individual. Yet some of his players remain more equal than others.
Robben is seizing his moment like a man possessed. Following the furore over his acrobatics during the Mexico game, he was booed here by sections of the crowd as though he were a pantomime villain.
After Jorge Luis Pinto had made pointed reference to Robben's diving before the match, he appeared to be making an effort to stay on his feet. And despite being fouled again and again, he got up and kept running at the massed ranks of white shirts. He kept his cool as the Costa Ricans tried to run the clock down and exhorted his team-mates to greater heights.
In the last 10 minutes of normal time alone, Holland could have scored twice. It was a tired looking Van Persie who had the best chance to take his team through in a frantic final few minutes of normal time during which the Oranje surrounded the Costa Rica goal.
But the Costa Ricans dug deep and the goal of Navas, in the form of his life, led a charmed life. With less than 10 minutes left, Sneijder slammed a free-kick against the post and it squirmed to safety.
Then, with a minute of normal time to go, a Daley Blind cross evaded three Dutch shirts before Van Persie steadied himself, poised to put Holland into the semi-finals.
But Yeltsin Tejeda somehow got his body in the way and the shot squirmed up on to the bar. Ruiz looked to the heavens and smiled ruefully as his resolute side again went into extra time.
Costa Rica, whose coach, Pinto, had endlessly studied previous World Cups to alight upon a defensive formation that could take them to historic heights, could even have won it.
The substitute Marco Ureña went close to writing himself into the history books when he found himself with only Cillessen to beat, but the Dutch goalkeeper proved equal to the task.
The ball swung to the other end and Sneijder hit the woodwork for the second time in the match. Then it was over to Van Gaal, who said his final substitution had been planned all along, and Krul.
As the Dutch players descended on Krul in exhausted elation, the Costa Ricans sat dazed in their dugout. A proud Pinto said afterwards: “People didn't believe in us but we've achieved wonderful things. We go home unbeaten and that's very important for us.”
Van Gaal, sporting a lucky bracelet given to him by Dutch schoolchildren, left the field wearing the air of a man who had planned the outcome all along. He had said before the match he would wear it for three more games. One down, two to go.