Monday, 7 July 2014

AS THE SEMI-FINALS LOOM: Was THIS Krul moment the most shocking of a memorable World Cup?

Finders keepers; Cillessen makes way for Krul
IT will go down as the most memorable moment in an extraordinary World Cup. Seconds left in extra-time, Holland unable to break down Costa Rica – and suddenly goalkeeper Tim Krul comes on as a late, late substitute.

Look, we’d seen him warming up on the sideline as the penalty shoot-out loomed. I immediately flashed off messages to my Newcastle United supporting mates asking them if a man who went on loan to lowly Carlisle and Falkirk a few years ago was some sort of penalty stopping expert.

The word came back: He had saved 2 penalties in 20 at St James’ Park. And no evidence of any great resistance to spot kicks. WHAT WAS LOUIS VAN GAAL DOING?

But in dramatic moments that will go down in World Cup history, the unremarkable Krul became the global man of the moment, saving penalties to his left from Brian Ruiz and sub Michael Umana while Costa Rica’s Man of the Match Keylor Navas, one of the goalkeepers of the tournament, couldn’t get near a perfect four out of four from Holland.

While Robin Van Persie (who missed a glaring chance during extra-time), Arjen Robben (brilliant throughout), Wesley Sneijder (who hit the woodwork twice during the game) and veteran Dirk Kuyt confounded Navas, Krul was talking to the Costa Ricans constantly and never looked like he was going to be anything less than a hero.

Afterwards Krul told the BBC: "I psyched them out. You try to do everything you can without being too aggressive. I tried to get in their minds.

"It is something I have dreamed about since I was a little boy - to have that moment when you make the crucial save and then all the boys are running towards you."

And Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, who will decamp to Manchester United after the tournament, insisted: "We all thought Tim was the best keeper to stop penalties. He is taller and has a longer reach.
"It worked out. That was beautiful. I'm a bit proud of that."

Is it REALLY just about height? Krul is 6ft 4in (1.93m), Jasper Cillessen is 6ft 2in (1.87m). And poor old Cillessen had produced his only save of the night in the 118th minute of a looooong goalless draw – Costa Rica’s only shot on target.

Shock tactic: Krul saves second penalty
So having made TWO touches all night, Krul heads to the semi against Argentina (dull 1-0 winners over Belgium in their quarter-final earlier on Saturday night) knowing he WILL NOT START in Sao Paulo tomorrow night.

Van Gaal confirmed: "There is no question about who will start the next game, it will be Cillessen, but we felt Krul was the better choice purely for penalties."

And this morning we had Cillessen admitting: "I had no idea I was being substituted. It was a complete surprise."

As we struggled to overcome the emotions of another dramatic night – Friday evening saw Germany crush the life out of France while Brazil crept past Colombia – we head to the last four breathless.

Tuesday’s semi between Germany and Brazil is dominated by two key absences for the hosts: top-scorer Neymar is out with a fractured vertebra (there will be no last-minute miracle cure, even if they reach the final) and captain Thiago Motta is banned for one game (pending a ridiculous appeal against his yellow card). Huge problems for Luis Scolari.

On Neymar, I had an interesting Facebook message from an old medical doctor friend in Cape Town who, having seen the widely-circulated x-ray of the damaged vertebra, insisted: "The CT scan looks like chronic spondylitis of the fifth lumbar vertebra. It looks like an old injury to me."

Wednesday night pits the only non-winner Holland – three-time losing finalists - against an Argentina who have yet to see their much-vaunted strike catch fire.

Form suggests the two European superpowers will surge on to the final. History says it will be an all-South American affair for the first time in history. No nation appears to have hit top form at this point.

I’m saying Brazil will win the final 2-1 against Argentina. But at THIS World Cup, anything is possible. Even the occasional Krul twist.

SOCCERBALLZ! my innovative football show on with Mark Fish airs every Thursday from 9am-11am. See Ballz' channel for our growing library of fascinating football interviews with the big names. Ballz will also provide daily World Cup updates from next week.

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