In the Netherlands v. Costa Rica World Cup game played on 5 July 2014, the Dutch substituted their keeper at 120+1', clearly solely for the inevitable penalty kick shootout. I'd expect the starting keeper would usually be the one entrusted with the PKs, so why did they put in the backup? Because he's fresh and the starter has been playing for two hours? I noticed he's a couple inches taller, is that enough difference to put him in? A combination of those?

The Result:

The gamble worked, Netherlands won 4-3 in PKs with a shot to spare. The winning save looked like the couple inches of height/armspan did make a difference.

  • A couple inches can make a lot of difference. Look at both shots Costa Rica missed, if the goalie had been an inch or two higher, he would have saved both.
    – Seth
    Jul 5, 2014 at 23:50
  • This was probably a psicho move against a team that has never been on a stage like that, since neither of the goalkeepers was that good containing penalties...
    – gbianchi
    Jul 7, 2014 at 14:45
  • During the game tv reporters speculated that this could happen because Krul had lots of PK training. In german newspapers vG is cited that he thought Krul was better for PK. He has a bigger range.
    – PlasmaHH
    Jul 9, 2014 at 10:24

3 Answers 3


We cannot say for sure what the exact reason was, unless Van Gaal goes out and specifies why he's put in Krul instead of the starting GK Cillessen.

Here are some relevant facts tho:

  • Cillessen is 1.88 m whereas Tim Krul is 1.93 (as recorded on Wiki page for respective players). So there is a 5 cm difference in their height. How that difference reflects to their overall reach distance is hard to estimate however.

  • Cillessen is 25 years old with 71 and 13 appearances in his senior careers for club and national team respectively. Tim Krul is 26 years old but has 153 appearances at club football and over 50 appearances for the Dutch national team, at different age groups. So one would argue that Tim Krul is significantly more experienced as a first team goalkeeper, even though they are about as old.

  • Cillessen has reportedly never saved a penalty in his senior career, which obviously is not very convincing when your team is playing world cup quarter final and the game goes to penalties.

    Van Gaal only made the audacious move to replace Ajax keeper Cillessen – who has never saved a penalty in his senior career – in the dying seconds of extra-time, throwing on Krul after instructing the understudy to perform a length warm-up.

The same article cites some comments from van Gaal where he says that he had left Cillessen in the dark about his decision of changing keepers if the game looks like it's going to the penalties. Such a decision is risky, might look really stupid if it doesnt pan out as planned and unfortunately might leave players jaded even if it does pan out as planned.

  • Interesting find about Cillessen never saving a PK.
    – Kevin
    Jul 7, 2014 at 15:22
  • 1
    According to reporting in my country (argentina) Krul only save two in his carreer...
    – gbianchi
    Jul 7, 2014 at 15:25
  • @gbianchi And he tripled that in this game :-P
    – Kevin
    Jul 7, 2014 at 17:48

First of all, to a question like this - there are no correct answers. As we do not know what went through van Gaal's head, we can merely speculate.

One reason could be that Cillessen hasn't saved a single penalty during his professional career, as reported by a dutch newspaper. However, if I'm not mistaken, Tim Krul hasn't got a very good record either - so this is likely to be only a small factor.

Another reason could be the difference in height between the two goalies, but in my opinion and experience - that's not a very important factor. There are many important characteristics, but as long as you're taller than 1,85 m - height is not among the top three.

I believe the substitution was based on a mental factor and on preparation. It's likely that the coaching staff did not prepare Cillessen for penalties so that he would be a hundred percent focused on the first 90 minutes (and extra-time). Preparing a goalie for penalties means placing some of the preparation focus on an eventuality, which is not preferable. Instead, they probably chose to prepare Krul for the eventuality of a penalty shoot-out (reports say that Krul was informed beforehand that he might be put on if it came to a shoot-out - but Cillessen was unaware that he was to be taken off). Krul had probably spent hours studying the opponents penalty-taking-techniques, tendencies, et cetera, and was thus better prepared (mentally, strategically, and physically).

Also, one must recognize the fact that Holland doesn't have an overflow of high-class substitutes. If they had, van Gaal would probably have put on some fresh legs during the extra time instead of "wasting" a substitution on changing keepers.

Please note that this is only speculation, and that it's impossible to determine the truth without actually spending some time inside the heads of the Holland coaching staff. The theories above are simply my subjective ones!


It was largely a case of psychological warfare.

Bringing Krul in was a bluff. It's true that Cillesen had never saved a penalty previously, but Krul had only saved one, so clearly van Gaal wasn't putting him on goal for his amazing penalty-saving record. He was doing it to intimidate the opposition. Costa Rica's goalkeeper (Navas) has gained a deserved reputation as a penalty-saver, and in principle this would have given Costa Rica an advantage in a shootout ---not only because Navas does save penalties on a regular basis, but also because his ability relieves the kickers of some pressure. Now, all of a sudden, this guy that nobody has ever heard of comes in just for the shootout. Can you imagine what must have gone through the minds of the Costa Ricans? Probably something like "if van Gaal has reserved his final substitution just to be able to bring in Krul for the penalty shootout, he must be a penalty-saving god". Krul's substitution took a large chunk of confidence from the Costa Ricans and replaced it with tons of doubts, fear, and pressure. And it showed.

  • Do you have any references for this, or is it purely personal interpretation?
    – Philip Kendall
    Feb 24, 2015 at 11:09
  • This answer is fine. It is speculation, but it is speculation based on facts that happened during the match. Feb 25, 2015 at 23:06

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