SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — Louis van Gaal says his Netherlands team is the most driven group of players he has ever worked with.
That's quite a compliment coming from a 62-year-old coach who has won the Champions League with Ajax and the Spanish and German leagues with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
It showed Saturday night in Salvador when the players battled unsuccessfully for 120 minutes to break down Costa Rica's stubborn defense before last-minute substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul went on as a one-man special team and saved two spot kicks in the shootout while four Dutch veterans stepped in and buried theirs.
"Everyone who has been called in has trained really hard," Van Gaal said after the shootout victory secured a semifinal match against Argentina in Sao Paulo. The way we took our penalties says a lot about how good this team is."
His captain, Robin van Persie, struggled against Costa Rica, but also paid tribute to the team spirit.
"It's bizarre," van Persie said. "We had too many chances. You have to stay strong and focussed in such circumstances. We had to work hard to win this game."
When Van Gaal was hired as Dutch coach in 2012, the team was on a low after crashing out of the European Championship with three straight losses.
He has rebuilt the defense and rejuvenated the team, based around a handful of veterans — Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt, who all scored in the shootout at Arena Fonte Nova.
"It's going fantastically," Van Gaal said. "They all take responsibility. So I'm happy with that."