RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - Should the Netherlands go on to win the World Cup, Louis Van Gaal will be credited with the masterstroke of a genius for getting them there.
But in the world of high stakes sports, it sometimes takes more than just intelligence to win. You have to exhibit the steel nerves of a riverboat gambler.
It makes champions or seals peoples’ fates.
When Van Gaal’s Oranje and Costa Rica where about to go to penalty kicks to decide who would move to the World Cup semifinals, he made a stunning substitution with a minute to go in playing time, taking out starting goalkeeper Jasper Cillissen and inserted Tim Krul who hadn’t played a minute in this World Cup.
Van Gaal said he made the move because Krul, at 6-foot-4, was taller and had more arm width. It worked. Krul made two saves that helped lead the Netherlands to a semifinal place against Argentina on Wednesday.
Krul made Van Gaal look like a genius.
Van Gaal went all in, having no idea how it would work out and Krul made him look like a genius. And like all individuals who garner a smidgen of success, they recognize that success does not come to the timid.
“An hour’s terror,” wrote Walter de la Mare, “is better than a lifetime of timidity.”
Van Gaal didn’t live an hour of terror but the 15 minutes it took the kicks from the penalty spot to get done, must have seemed that long.
While most of the credit will go to Krul and Netherlands’ penalty takers, the game was won hours before when Van Gaal orchestrated the move.
“Just before we got on the bus to go to the stadium, the goalkeeper coach said to me that if we were going to go to penalties and had one more substitution, I might go in,” Krul said.
No one told Cillissen but, on the bench, Krul said that, as the game went on, he knew “where things were going.”
When Van Gaal made the move, Cillissen came off and pitched a fit, throwing his gloves, kicking over a contained of water and likely cussing up a storm. But, at the end, he was one of the Dutch players linking arms and supporting Krul.
Cillissen admitted to the anger, but there was no sign of any issues on Sunday when the two appeared together at a press conference. Winning, of course, makes everything look better.
“I was angry. I wanted to play (and finish the game,)” said Cillissen, who later apologized for his actions. “But the coach made the decision and he thought Tim was better. It was a coaching decision.”
No doubt, Van Gaal also weighed the fact that Krul has an edge to him and, true to form, got in the Costa Rican penalty-takers faces. A day later, he was questioned about whether he felt doing it was not in the spirit of fair play.
“I didn’t do anything crazy,” he said. “I am trying obviously to get into their heads and it worked. I use everything in my power to make it happen.”
There is one other thing about the kind of shock move Van Gaal made that can make a break a game or at times make or break a career. They usually wind up influencing the other team in some fashion. No doubt, it probably got the Costa Rican penalty-kickers’ thinking.
Krul said he knows it had an effect on Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto, who admitted he’d never seen that before.
“I looked over at his face and ... his face was priceless,” Krul said. “I think it had a big impact.”
For Van Gaal, it was a big-risk, big-reward situation. While it appears to have worked out, he still won’t know whether there are any long-term effects the yanking will have on Cillissen’s confidence, should he face a penalty shot during the game against Argentina.
“Why should it?” snapped Cillissen.
As for whether Van Gaal will do the same thing if Argentina looks like it will go to kicks from the penalty spot, neither goaltender would comment.
“We hope we win before we get there,” Cillissen said.
If it isn’t decided, though, you can bet Van Gaal won’t be afraid to go all in again.