The final World Cup quarterfinal fixture may well seem the most predictable, though Costa Rica have already caused several upsets en route to Saturday's meeting with the Netherlands. Thanks to some remarkable defensive discipline and quick, incisive counter-attacking, they topped a group containing Italy, Uruguay and England and beat Greece on penalties with 10 men. The Ticos don't do predictable.
Then again, neither do the Netherlands. Louis van Gaal's side were excellent in the group stages, as they brushed aside defending champions Spain and the neutrals' favorite Chile, though they were rather less convincing against Mexico in the round of 16. They went a down early in the second half, and relied on a couple of last-gasp goals to advance. If they play as poorly against Costa Rica, they'll struggle again.
The Netherlands will be without midfield anchorman Nigel de Jong for the remainder of the tournament after he sustained a groin injury. As in the last match, center back Bruno Martins Indi could replace him with Daley Blind stepping up to play as the holding midfielder. It remains to be seen whether Georginio Wijnaldum will keep his place in the centre of the pitch, or whether the more natural midfielder Jonathan de Guzmán will replace him. Daryl Janmaat could come in on the right flank in place of the unimpressive Paul Verhaegh.
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto will be forced into making one change, with starting center back Óscar Duarte having been sent off in their round of 16 win over Greece. Otherwise they'll likely be unchanged after a string of impressive performances.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Netherlands (3-4-1-2): Jasper Cillessen; Bruno Martins Indi, Ron Vlaar, Stefan de Vrij; Dirk Kuyt, Daley Blind, Jonathan de Guzmán, Daryl Janmaat; Wesley Sneijder; Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie.
Costa Rica (5-4-1): Keylor Navas; Júnior Díaz, Michael Umaña, Giancarlo González, Johnny Acosta, Cristian Gamboa; Christian Bolaños, Yeltsin Tejeda, Celso Borges, Bryan Ruiz; Joel Campbell.
The possession battle - Both the Netherlands and Costa Rica have relied on quick counter-attacking at the tournament so far; looking to draw their opponents onto the attack before hitting them on the break with direct passes forward. When the Netherlands have been forced onto the front foot, as after going behind against Mexico in the round of 16, they've looked devoid of invention, and have struggled to create chances. Whether they look to sit back again against a much weaker opponent remains to be seen, but the Ticos would no doubt be delighted if the Oranje attempted to play a little more expansively.
Arjen Robben vs. the Costa Rica defense - The key to the Netherlands' counter-attacking style has been Arjen Robben, who has excelled in an unfamiliar central role alongside Robin van Persie. His blistering pace has terrorized every defense who've dared to give him space, and Costa Rica will have to find a way to deal with him if they want to keep their sheet clean. Against Mexico he consistently found space in the channels between El Tri's back three and wing-backs, and the Ticos will have to be careful to keep these spaces tight in their similar formation.
Christian Bolaños and Bryan Ruiz vs. the Netherlands central midfield - De Jong is a pretty unspectacular player when on the ball, though his importance off it was in evidence in the Netherlands' win over Mexico. He was substituted with an injury early on, and suddenly gaps began to appear all through the center of the Oranje midfield. With no de Jong to protect the defense and organize his teammates' pressing, the central runs of Costa Rica midfielders Bolaños and Ruiz could be dangerous, especially if van Gaal again opts to start Wijnaldum over Jonathan de Guzmán.
Costa Rica have been genuinely excellent at the World Cup so far, though they could well struggle against such an extreme counter-attacking side as the Netherlands, who won't leave space to counter into. This game will likely be one too far for the Ticos. 2-0 Netherlands.