|Dutch, Costa Ricans advance to quarterfinal match|
|Sunday, June 29, 2014 8:00 PM|
RIO DE JANEIRO — Regulation time doesn’t seem to mean much at this stage, judging by the way Netherlands, Costa Rica and Brazil have advanced through the first of the World Cup knockout rounds.
The Dutch needed a penalty deep in stoppage time to seal a 2-1 comeback win over Mexico and advance to a match against a Costa Rica lineup that beat Greece on penalties later Sunday to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time. The Costa Ricans had to play for almost an hour with 10 men and just had the legs to win 5-3 on penalties after the match finished level at 1-1 after extra time.
That was the second penalty shootout of the weekend, following Brazil’s narrow win over Chile on Saturday.
In oppressive heat at Fortaleza, a Dutch attack that scored five goals against 2010 champion Spain in its opening game was on the verge of a second-round exit until finding a way past Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the 88th minute.
Once they did, the turnaround happened quickly. Wesley Sneijder’s bullet-like strike canceled out Giovani Dos Santos’ 48th-minute opener for Mexico. Klaas Jan Huntelaar sealed the win with a calmly-taken penalty late in stoppage time after Mexico captain Rafael Marquez took down Robben in the area.
The veteran Dutch forward had been dangerous in attack but all his efforts had been fruitless, as had his frequent tumbles and appeals for penalties and free kicks.
“Unbelievable,” Robben said. “Five minutes from full time, we were out.”
It was unbelievable for Mexico coach Miguel Herrera, too. The effusive coach was mystified that the penalty was awarded by referee Pedro Proenca, disputing the contact that resulted in Robben sprawling on the pitch.
“Today, it was the man with the whistle who eliminated us from the World Cup,” Herrera said. “We ended up losing because he whistled a penalty that did not exist.
“I repeat this because (Robben) dived three times. The referee should have cautioned him. If that had happened, Robben would have been cautioned or even sent off.”
In recent seasons Robben has been trying to shake off his reputation for diving. Against Mexico, he only compounded it.
With temperatures hitting 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) and in 68 percent humidity, FIFA instituted cooling breaks 30 minutes into each half in Fortaleza so players could rehydrate.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal used the second-half break to make a tactical change, switching from a 5-3-2 system to a more traditional Dutch 4-4-3, bringing Huntelaar in to replace the tiring Robin van Persie.
The Costa Ricans, rank outsiders at the start of the tournament, were fluid in attack as they topped a group containing former champions Italy, Uruguay and England to advance to the knockout stage, then had to struggle against Greece at Recife.
Costa Rica took an early second-half lead through captain Bryan Ruiz but, after being reduced to 10 men when Oscar Duarte was sent off for his second booking in the 66th minute, conceded an injury-time equalizer to Sokratis Papastathopoulos that sent the match into extra time at 1-1.
The Costa Ricans appeared on the verge of exhaustion as Greece relentlessly pressed forward.
Greece, which sealed its place in the knockout stages for the first time with a late penalty winner against Ivory Coast, couldn’t find the winner in extra time despite a numerical advantage.
Given a few moments to recover their breath, the Costa Ricans were perfect in the shoot out, with Michael Umana scoring the decisive penalty.
“To the entire people in Costa Rica, those at home and out on the streets, this is for you,” Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said. “This is a people that love football and they deserve it. … We will continue fighting. We will go on. We see beautiful things.”
US World Cup players buoyed by large audience
SAO PAULO — The last time the U.S. played in a World Cup in Brazil, just one American reporter was on hand, using vacation time and paying his own way.
Sixty-four years later, about 100 credentialed U.S. media members are covering the tournament — and that doesn’t even include staffers from the networks broadcasting the games.
Back home, millions of people are watching on giant screens or office computers, at bars and public gatherings. In their protected Brazilian bubble, U.S. players find out about it via email, text, tweet, Facebook, cable television and all sorts of other inventions that didn’t exist in 1950.
“All the bars and the pubs and restaurants are packed and it’s all over social media and people are taking off work,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “That says a lot. They do that for the Super Bowl. So the fact that they’re doing it for the World Cup is special.”
The Americans traveled Sunday to Salvador for Tuesday’s second-round game against Belgium. Sunday also marked the anniversary of the famous 1-0 victory over England at Belo Horizonte, still considered by many the biggest upset in World Cup history.
Dent McSkimming of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was the only American reporter there in 1950. Now every game is televised live back home, drawing audiences that would make every U.S. league other than the NFL jealous.
Stars in other sports are taking notice. San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum pulled on a U.S. road jersey after throwing a no-hitter last week.
This kind of attention and hype would have been unimaginable not just in 1990, when the U.S. returned to the World Cup after a 40-year absence, but even as recently as 2010.
“Obviously when we were in Korea, when we were in Germany, South Africa, the support has always been there, but it’s just a lot bigger,” said defender DaMarcus Beasley, the first American to play in four World Cups. “We get a lot more mainstream people that never really watched soccer or been a fan of soccer. And obviously people are going to say, ‘Ah, people only come out during the World Cup. They don’t support every game.’ But we see it differently. We see what’s going on behind the scenes and we know our support is growing in the right direction, and us getting out of our group is a way to help improve our growth from a soccer standpoint.”
Players have cited the large crowds at home and the thousands of U.S. fans in Brazilian stadiums as forces that motivated them during difficult moments.
The three U.S. group stage games averaged more than 18 million viewers between English-language ESPN and Spanish-language Univision. The 2-2 Sunday evening draw with Portugal was the most-watched soccer game in American history with 24.7 million TV viewers.
The finale against Germany started at noon EDT when much of the country was at work — or at least supposed to be. A record audience of 1.05 million streamed that match on WatchESPN.
By comparison, Boston’s 6-game World Series win over St. Louis last October averaged 14.9 million viewers on Fox, San Antonio’s 5-game victory over Miami in this month’s NBA Finals averaged 15.5 million on ABC, and Los Angeles’ five-game win over the New York Rangers in the NHL’s Stanley Cup finals averaged 5 million on NBC and NBCSN.
But “American football” is still the king in the U.S. The opening weekend of the NFL playoffs this past season averaged 34.7 million viewers for four games.
“This is a very special time for us back home in America and with the growth of soccer,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “With us getting out of the group, it definitely helps a lot. The viewership on different channels has been great, and we want to keep it going.”
A win over Belgium would advance the U.S. to a quarterfinal against Argentina or Switzerland on Saturday at noon EDT, another potential record-setter.