By Mark Gleeson
The Netherlands start as firm favourites for their World Cup quarter-final against Costa Rica on Saturday but will take nothing for granted when they meet the tournament’s surprise package, who have already seen off three former world champions.
After finishing above England, Italy and Uruguay in Group D, Costa Rica are seeking to become the first team from the CONCACAF region, the confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean nations, to reach the World Cup semi-finals since the United States at the first edition in 1930.
The Netherlands had a last-gasp escape in the previous round, scoring twice in the final moments to beat Mexico, and forward Arjen Robben says his side will not be taking their opponents lightly at the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador.
“Costa Rica have a very good team, they have already proved that in their group, which was very tough,” he told Fifa.com.
“They’ve been really impressive and we’ll have to prepare very well if we’re going to beat them.”
Despite Costa Rica’s impressive performances, many observers believe the Netherlands have too much firepower for them after scoring 12 goals in their four wins in Brazil so far.
Robben, Wesley Sneijder and captain Robin van Persie present a fearsome attacking trio and showed how invaluable experience is when they did not panic despite being on the cusp of elimination against Mexico.
However, they must replace hard man Nigel de Jong in midfield after he suffered a groin injury that will likely keep him out for the rest of the World Cup.
While coach Louis van Gaal has played his cards close to his chest, speculation continues on whether Daley Blind will be moved from left back to central midfield or Jonathan de Guzman or Jordy Clasie come in for De Jong.
Costa Rica must contend with the absence of utility back Roy Miller and the suspended Oscar Duarte but hope goalkeeper Keylor Navas, hero of their shootout triumph over Greece in the previous round, will recover from the shoulder injury that curtailed his ability to train this week.
The performance of their defensive unit has been a major part of their success in Brazil. Costa Rica have conceded only twice at the tournament – one of the goals from a penalty.
But any chance of success probably rests on the attacking prowess of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz, who is well known to the Dutch having spent two seasons at Twente Enschede and the last six months on loan at PSV Eindhoven.
“Bryan is very quick and sharp, we’ll have to watch him carefully,” Dutch defender Ron Vlaar told reporters.