A four-match winning streak and the highest scoring attack in the tournament have the Netherlands heavily favored over Costa Rica in Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal at the Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil.
Runners-up four years ago to Spain, manager Louis van Gaal’s side have come out blazing in Brazil. Led by the deft play of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, the Dutch have lit up opponents for 11 goals, but for the second straight match take on one of the best keepers in the tournament and a solid defensive crew.
Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas has totaled 14 saves and elevated his country to its first Round of 16 victory in a 1-1 (5-3) shootout over Greece to keep Los Ticos undefeated after four matches. The matchup against Greece was especially grueling for Costa Rica and Navas after defender Oscar Duarte was issued a second yellow card and Los Ticos were forced to play with a man down for the final 54 minutes.
But this is a resilient and deep Costa Rican side, that didn’t allow Greece to tie until added time even with a man down. Defenders Junior Diaz, Michael Umana and Giancarlo Gonzalez fortify the backline with 191 combined caps for their country, and none is over 31 years old.
The Dutch don’t have nearly as much experience on their backline, and showed a vulnerability to defensive minded teams in their narrow 2-1 win over Mexico and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, and in the group stage against Australia.
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Mexico maintained a lead for the majority of the second half thanks to a goal from Giovani dos Santos, but the Netherlands came back in stunning fashion thanks to Wesley Snejider’s goal in the 88th minute, and Robben drawing a questionable penalty in added time that resulted in Klass-Jan Huntelaar’s winning goal.
Up until those crucial final minutes, Mexico had largely turned back the Dutch attack with 25 clearances and two saves from Ochoa.
Australia showed how the Dutch are also susceptible to quick counter attacks, with forward Tim Cahill quickly spoiling the celebration of a Robben goal one minute later with a powerful and gorgeous volley goal from distance. Socceroos keeper Mat Ryan also contributed seven saves, but the Netherlands eventually escaped with the 3-2 win.
Los Ticos have two forwards who could present a serious problem to the Netherlands counter-attack measures. Olympiacos and Arsenal striker Joel Campbell has emerged as one of the most dangers players at his position during the tournament, and 67-cap owner Bryan Ruiz leads Costa Rica with two goals and an assist thus far.
Betting Odds (via bovada.lv)
Costa Rica 6/1
Over/Under: 2.5 goals