Extra time GK switch works, as Krul leads Dutch past Costa Rica in PKs

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Those pesky Ticos were at it again on Saturday in the World Cup quarterfinals, taking the Netherlands to penalty kicks at the Arena Fonte Nova.

But an unorthodox goalkeeper substitution by Louis van Gaal allowed Tim Krul to be the hero in penalty kicks, stopping two Costa Rica shooters on way to a 0-0 (4-3) win and a spot alongside Argentina, Germany and Brazil in the semifinals.

The sixth 2014 World Cup match to go to extra time had plenty of thrilling moments, most of them coming courtesy of brilliant Levante keeper Keylor Navas.

Robin van Persie missed at least three gold chances. Wesley Sneijder hammered two shots off the woodwork. Arjen Robben was a dribbling mastermind (but infuriating embellisher), dancing through Costa Rica’s stingy defense. But he was unable to find his fourth goal of the tournament.

Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto continued his masterful job by removing Los Ticos from their full-attacking ways. Instead, the Costa Rican team played for the counter. When they did scoop up the ball, their transition was strong.

And van Gaal wasn’t about to be out-managed without doing something wild, pulling off Jasper Cillessen in the 122nd minute, moments after the keeper made a great save. It would be Newcastle United’s Tim Krul to face the firing line.

To kicks, where Borges made his and Van Persie followed. Krul stopped Ruiz, and Robben finished his chance. The Columbus Crew’s Giancarlo Gonzlez scored to put the burden to Sneijder, but the Dutchman scored, too.

Bolanos and Kuyt both finished, meaning Umana would have to succeed on his chance. He didn’t. Krul made the save. The Netherlands won.

How did we get there? Here’s what we were saying at halftime.

To the second half, where Bruno Martins Indi took down Joel Campbell inside the box — and from behind — as the clock neared 60, and the case could’ve been made for a penalty. Referee Ravshan Irmatov was not swayed, however.

Wesley Sneijder nearly broke the deadlock in the 83rd minute with a flash of a free kick that bent a bit too far, striking the post before being cleared.

And van Persie had multiple chances to win it in regulation, the most grievous miss coming on a super flub in the 89th minute. Sneijder’s cross was perfect, but RVP was anticipating contact and failed to connect with the ball.

And later, in the third of four minutes of stoppage time, van Persie’s would-be winner was denied by Yeltsin Tejeda. The Costa Rican defender was on the near post to deflect the ball off the bottom of the cross bar and out.

Extra time found more shining examples of Navas at work, as Robben’s corner kick met Sneijder on the doorstep. But Navas pushed it aside, but moments later it was fear for Los Ticos. The keeper landed on Dirk Kuyt after leaping to corral a corner and needed medical attention, yet stayed on.

Los Ticos made it through the first 15 minutes of stoppage time. Netherlands continued to push Navas, but with shots and physical contact. Substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar made contact with the keeper’s face and earned a yellow card.

Cillessen’s chance to be hero came in the 117th, when Urena broke through and ripped a low shot that the Dutch keeper booted away.

The 119th minute saw Sneijder put another shot off the bar. Wow.

In strode Krul for Cillessen and then came kicks.

Lineups

Netherlands: Cillessen, Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi (Huntelaar, 106′), Blind, Van Persie (c), Sneijder, Robben, Kuyt, Wijnaldum, Depay (Lens, 76′)

Costa Rica: Navas, Acosta, Gonzalez, Umana, Borges, Bolanos, Campbell (Urena, 65′), Ruiz (c), Diaz, Gamboa (Murie, 78′), Tejeda (Cubero, 96′)

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday