THE Netherlands last night booked their place in the World Cup semi-finals and a last-four showdown with Argentina after a nail-biting penalty shoot-out in Salvador last night.
And it turned out to be a tale of two keepers as the game delivered a high-wire finish after 120 minutes of high drama and intense emotions.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal produced his own version of Dutch courage when he replaced keeper Jasper Cillessen with penalty specialist Tim Krul seconds from the end of extra-time.
And the switch paid off in spades when the Newcastle stopper lived up to his billing by saving two spot-kicks to send the Oranje through while bringing the curtain down on Costa Rica's campaign in the cruellest fashion. Especially since the man of the match was undoubtedly Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas, whose heroics had inspired the Central Americans, the surprise package of this World tournament.
Navas continually defied the Dutch with a string of spellbinding saves from Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. He flung himself at every ball that came near to piercing his defensive shield as the Dutch often toiled to find the swagger that had so coloured their previous matches.
The panache may have been missing, but when it came to finding a telling punch, Holland eventually delivered the knockout blow to score with each of their four penalties.
The Dutch began in a trademark high-tempo fashion, bearing down on Costa Rica's goal in a series of sweeping, attacking moves. But for all their possession, they were unable to conjure up the combination to unlock a defence which was well drilled and disciplined at keeping opponents at bay. Navas has been one of the key performers for his country as they navigated their way past a Group that included England, Italy and Uruguay.
And he again was the man who kept the scores deadlocked in a first 45 minutes which saw the Central Americans repeatedly forced back to defend their 18-yard box with 10 players behind the ball.
He first denied Sneijder, diving to his right to push aside a 25-yard free-kick before repeating his heroics to twice thwart van Persie and then Memphis Depay. Holland continually spread the pattern of play with Robben and Dirk Kuyt often swapping flanks to try to confuse the Costa Ricans. But neither was able to find a way through a resolute wall of white shirts. Holland maintained their attacking grip on the game at the start of the second period with Costa Rica apparently happy to keep soaking up the pressure.
But they were starting to look vulnerable to the Sneijder-Robben axis and were hemmed in their own half until the 60th minute. However, they then showed their counter-attacking credentials when Junior Diaz charged down the right.
His cross was met by Joel Campbell who was barged in the back by Bruno Martins Indi who was perhaps lucky not to give away a penalty as he cleared.
Van Persie had three gilt-edged chances in the closing seconds to settle the game before extra-time was called upon, but remarkably fluffed his lines each time.
That set the scene for 30 more minutes followed by penalties, with Krul ultimately proving that football really can be a cruel game.