For the penalty kicks against Costa Rica, the Dutch coach replaced the magnificent goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul, who hadn’t yet played a minute. It was genius.
The Netherlands continued its strong World Cup showing Saturday, advancing to the semifinals with a 4-3 penalty shootout win over Costa Rica. The two teams had played to a scoreless tie in regulation and two periods of overtime. Sounds like keeper Jasper Cillessen is in part to thank, right? Goalies can’t do better than a shutout–and Cillessen had been minding one for a full two hours. And yet when it came time for the penalty shootout, Cillessen was replaced by Tim Krul, who went on to become the hero of the game by saving two shots. So why the switch, after Cillessen had tended the goalmouth through the Netherlands’ five World Cup victories so far?
Coach Louis Van Gaal, who masterminded the substitution, explained after the game that he’d made the decision before the players ever stepped out on the pitch, and for two reasons. In the first place, Krul is known as a penalty killer, specializing in these tense end-of-game stand-offs. The other reason is even simpler: height. Cillessen stands at 1.88 meters (6’2″), while Krul comes in at 1.93 meters (6’3″). And those extra few centimeters can–and maybe did–mean everything in a contest where guessing the direction of the penalty kick and propelling your body in that direction is the difference between heartbreak and the chance to fight another day. No word on the state of Cillessen’s heart, but Van Gaal has said he will be starting when the Netherlands takes on Argentina in the semifinals this Wednesday. And during the regular part of the game, it’s very likely that 6’2″ will be tall enough.