There is no doubt about who is the most talked about player in the buildup to the quarter-final between the Netherlands and Costa Rica in Salvador. Arjen Robben has been the outstanding player for the Dutch so far. His pace and dribbling skill have consistently been the Oranje’s most dangerous weapon and he has scored three times in four games. But it is his tendency to tumble to the ground dramatically, with or without the intervention a defender – and in particular the decisive penalty he won against Mexico – that has been the major talking point.
Costa Rica’s coach, the Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto, chose to highlight the Robben issue in his pre-match press conference. “This is something that makes us worry a lot. We’re really worried about that. I would like to ask Fifa and the referees to watch Robben closely.
“I think he is one of the three or four best players in the world,” said Pinto. “He is a great player but on the other hand we have to say there have been refereeing mistakes. We’re really worried about Robben’s diving. And he admitted it. I hope the referee watches him very closely tomorrow.”
With Robben absorbing defenders’ attention Robin van Persie will hope to add to the two goals he scored in the opening rout of Spain. The Dutch coach, Louis van Gaal, will have to do without his inured midfield enforcer, Nigel de Jong, who has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament.
Van Gaal has insisted that he will not be taking Costa Rica lightly. The unheralded Central Americans have been the big surprise of the tournament, having already seen off Uruguay, Italy, England and Greece. “It is going to be a very tough match. They got through with a lot of passion and belief and faith. We should not take them too lightly.”
Pinto is relishing the challenge of the Dutch. “We’re never scared. We respect them but we will try to control them. We know two or three Dutch players are very strong and we’ll try and control them.”
The Ticos’ team is based on defense and includes a five-man back line that has conceded only two goals in Brazil – although they will have to cope with the absence of the Nicaraguan-born Omar Duarte who was red-carded against Greece. Keylor Navas has been one of the best goalkeepers at the World Cup, continuing his fine form for Levante in the Spanish league.
For goals they will look to Joel Campbell – like Robben, no stranger to accusations of diving – and the captain Bryan Ruiz. They will also be grateful for the six days since their draining two-hour epic against Greece in the last round when many of their players appeared to be out on their feet before the penalty shootout.
And the contingent of roughly 5,000 Costa Rican fans are likely to be augmented in Salvador by the neutral Brazilian spectators who have been vocal in their support of Costa Rica in their previous matches. Should they win they will be the first team from North and Central America and the Caribbean to reach a World Cup semi-final since the USA in the first ever tournament in 1930. For the Dutch, victory would keep them on course to emulate their achievement of reaching the final four years ago and perhaps this time going one step further.